Aberystwyth space scientists contribute to discovery of Beagle 2 on Mars

Dr Laurence Tyler, a member of the Space Robotics Group at Aberystwyth University

Dr Laurence Tyler, a member of the Space Robotics Group at Aberystwyth University

16 January 2015

Space scientists at Aberystwyth University have played an important role in the discovery of the remains of the Beagle 2 Mars Lander which was lost on Christmas Day 2003.

The UK-led Beagle 2 Mars Lander, which hitched a ride on the ESA Mars Express mission, has been found partially deployed on the surface of Mars.

This find shows that the ‘Entry, Descent and Landing’ sequence for Beagle 2 worked and the craft landed successfully.

The team searching for Beagle 2 approached Dr Laurence Tyler and Dr Matt Gunn at the Institute of Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science at Aberystwyth University to provide detailed 3D images of the area where it was believed to have landed.

Using powerful ‘Shape from Shading’ computer software developed by the Space Robotics Group at Aberystwyth University, Dr Tyler was able to provide a terrain map of the area from images taken by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Dr Tyler hopes to use the same technique to study the proposed landing sites for the European Space Agency’s 2018 ExoMars rover mission.

Beagle 2 was led by Professor Colin Pillinger from the Open University and Aberystwyth University space scientist Professor Dave Barnes played a key role in the development of one of the mission’s defining features, its robotic arm.

Professor Pillinger died in May 2014 and Professor Barnes died in July 2014.

Commenting on the discovery of Beagle 2, Dr Tyler said: “This news has brought a lump to my throat. I am very pleased to hear it sounds like Beagle 2 landed successfully but saddened that Dave is not around to see this.  He would have been absolutely thrilled that Beagle 2 landed safely and didn’t just burn up in the atmosphere.”

“The team searching for Beagle 2 were interested in knowing what the slopes of the terrain were like in that region of Mars. We were able to show them that the area where the lander was supposed to have landed was very flat.”

Following the untimely death of Professor Barnes in July 2014, Dr Tyler and Dr Gunn are both leading the important contribution Aberystwyth is making to ExoMars.

Professor Barnes was researching autonomous science sample acquisition methods for the ExoMars mission, and was a Co-investigator for the mission’s Panoramic Camera (PanCam) science instrument.

This work builds upon the extensive space research carried out in Wales and bought together as part of the Welsh Academic Space Partnership (WASP), which is co-ordinated by the Welsh Government and which Dave Barnes was heavily involved.