Christmas vigil: listening for Beagle 2
Early on Christmas Day, the Beagle 2 lander descended to the Martian surface. Two initial attempts to detect a signal from the tiny spacecraft failed but further efforts are scheduled during the next few days. Beagle 2’s mothership, ESA’s Mars Express orbiter, will attempt contact early in the New Year.
Beagle 2 landed at an estimated 03:52 CET. NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft passed over the landing site at about 06:15 CET, and the first unsuccessful attempt was made to establish radio contact during this time.
The next opportunity to detect Beagle 2 came later on 25 December between 23:40 and 00:20 CET when the 76-metre radio telescope dish at Jodrell Bank Observatory, UK, tried to detect the 5 Watt signal from more than 157 million kilometres away, again without success.
On 26 December, Mars Odyssey will carry out another pass of the landing site at 19:14 CET. This will be followed up by another sweep by Jodrell Bank early in the morning of 27 December, between 00:20 and 01:00 CET. Mars Odyssey can try again later that day at 07:57 CET.
On 28 December, Jodrell Bank once more becomes available at 00:16 to 00:56 CET. Beyond that date, Mars Odyssey will continue the search daily, and the Stanford University radio telescope will also join in the effort.
If all those attempts are unsuccessful, then Mars Express itself flies over the landing site in the first week of January 2004. Of all these potential signal detectors, Mars Express is the only one that has been specially designed and tested to transmit and receive signals from Beagle 2.
The hope is strong that the Mars Express orbiter will be successful in this task.