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Last Updated: Friday, 16 March 2007, 16:19 GMT
Beagle 2 'could go to the Moon'
By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News, Houston

Beagle 2
The Beagle 2 mission was lost at Mars in late 2003
The scientists behind the Beagle 2 mission, which was lost on Mars in 2003, want to send a nearly identical spacecraft to the Moon.

They say Beagle 2's science instruments are ideal for assessing whether humans could exploit lunar resources when Nasa returns to Earth's satellite in 2020.

It could determine whether deposits of hydrogen, water-ice and hydrocarbons are trapped in the Moon's cold regions.

A Beagle could be sent to the Moon on its own, or attached to a lunar rover.

Scientists envisage several opportunities for lunar robotic missions in preparation for the US space agency's (Nasa) manned mission to the Moon in just over a decade.

Dr Everett Gibson, a geochemist at Nasa's Johnson Space Center, who participated on the original Beagle 2 mission, told BBC News: "[The Americans] don't want to take Beagle 2; we want to keep it for the British."

Indeed, many of the UK scientists behind the Martian mission in 2003 have also backed this venture, including the original mission's lead scientist, Professor Colin Pillinger, of the Open University.

Dr Gibson added that Beagle was one of the best scientific packages ever put together for exploring space and should be revived for another mission.

Details of the proposal were presented here at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas.

Flight-tested

Beagle would have an advantage over other instrument packages, said Dr Gibson, because it had already been tested and certified ready for flight into space by the European Space Agency (Esa).

A version of the spacecraft sent to the Moon could be substantially reduced in weight from the original 30kg to 10-20kg. This is because the different environment of the Moon meant components such as the vacuum system and aeroshell - used for descent through the atmosphere on Mars - could be eliminated.

Dr Gibson said such a venture would cost only 5-10m.

One of the goals of Nasa's Vision for Space Exploration is for astronauts to utilise resources on the lunar surface, allowing them to "live off the land" and reduce the need to regularly transport consumables such as oxygen, fuel and water from Earth.

There are tentative signs that water-ice deposited by cometary impacts could still be trapped in craters shaded from the Sun. Water (H2O) could be used for drinking, or split into its chemical constituents, hydrogen and oxygen.

They could be used to produce rocket fuel; the oxygen could also be used for breathing.

Site survey

The Beagle's robotic sampling arm could dig down as deep as 2m below the lunar surface and would be ideal for seeking out buried cometary ices, said Dr Gibson.

Another instrument in the suite, known as the Gas Analysis Package (Gap), could determine the concentrations of hydrogen in rocks and trapped ice.

In addition, it could assess the characteristics of potential landing sites, measure isotopes of other elements on the Moon and analyse the lunar atmosphere.

The robotic lab could even serve as a monitoring device to assess whether human missions were polluting the lunar surface.

The original Beagle 2 lander was carried to Mars by Europe's Mars Express orbiter. However, it failed to send a signal after its descent through the Martian atmosphere. Subsequent attempts using US orbiters to find the probe on the surface have failed to yield any sign of it.

Paul.Rincon-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk


SEE ALSO
New image finds no Beagle traces
16 Feb 07 |  Science/Nature
Wheels turn on Mars rover project
12 May 06 |  Science/Nature
Mars probe 'was doomed' say MPs
09 Jun 05 |  UK Politics

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