Monday, August 2, 1999 Published at 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Brits hit Mars
Beagle Two is designed to unfold its solar panels after landing
A British spacecraft looking for alien life seems set to land on Mars in 2003, after the UK Science Minister pledged £5 million of additional funding.
There it will send out a "mole" to gather samples of rock, soil and gas which will be examined by equipment on Beagle Two for chemical traces of life.
£25 million mission
UK Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury, told the BBC that the government would provide £5 million towards the estimated £25 million cost of the mission.
He said that the Beagle Two team had already arranged £13m of funding from industrial and other sponsors, as well as £3m from the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.
Speaking to News Online, a spokesperson for the Department of Trade and Industry ruled out any further government funding in the event of a shortfall.
He believes that technology for sampling and analysing other planets and then sending back the data could have commercial potential, if it is proved to work by Beagle Two.
Beagle Two will weigh about 60 kilograms (132 pounds) and be the size of a microwave oven. It will land using air bags to cushion the impact.
Fundraising publicity has emphasised Beagle Two's British origin and the spacecraft is likely to carry a Union Jack on its side.
UK artist Damien Hirst is reported to have provided paintings to travel on the spacecraft. These would be used as test cards for the cameras. Members of the pop group Blur have also been involved in publicity.
Lord Sainsbury will announce more details of the government's support for Beagle Two on Tuesday in London.