19 May 2003 - UCL
scientists look for water on Mars with Mars Express and Beagle 2
launch date has now been set for Europe's first mission to Mars. On the 2
June 2003 at 18:45 BST, the Mars Express orbiter, together with the Beagle
2 lander, will soar above the steppes of Kazakhstan on a Soyuz-Fregat rocket.
The launch window lasts until 21 June and the arrival at Mars is just before
Christmas 2003. UCL-MSSL scientists are eagerly awaiting the launch for three
reasons: they are involved in instruments on both the lander and orbiter
- and they wish to study water in the Martian environment.
is important on Mars as it is a key ingredient for life. Scientists think
that 3.8 billion years ago Mars had flowing water on the surface, a thick
atmosphere and a protecting magnetic shield like the Earth's. Now, all
that is gone and Mars is dry and barren, has a thin carbon dioxide rich
atmosphere, and has no large scale magnetic field. However recent discoveries
by other spacecraft have shown that there may still be water, probably
in the form of permafrost, within a metre of the surface in the Martian
polar regions. There may even be water covered by snow packs on the surface.
All this points to better conditions for life on Mars 3.8 billion years
ago - and a very slim chance now too.
Mars Express Orbiter
Coates, UCL-MSSL's lead scientist for Beagle 2 and Mars Express says 'We
are in a pivotal position to look for water on Mars at UCL, as we are one
of only very few scientific groups are involved in lander and orbiter. With
our stereo camera system on the surface we will look for water in the atmosphere,
and our involvement with an experiment on the orbiter will allow us to measure
how quickly water escapes from the atmosphere, scavenged away by the solar
wind. Combined with other instruments on the orbiter which can look for water
up to 5km under the surface, Europe is going to make vital new discoveries
about water on Mars with this mission. We will have a key role in this'.
Beagle 2 lander
lead the international stereo camera team for the Beagle 2 camera. These
are the 'eyes' of Beagle 2 - and as well as making three dimensional
maps of the landing site, vital for Beagle's other instruments, the cameras
will study the Martian geology, measure water and dust in the atmosphere
and even do some astronomy. Images soon after landing will help scientists
steer by the stars as they locate the lander precisely on the surface.
for the surface of Mars has been a challenge. Stereo camera system project
manager Dr Andrew Griffiths says 'Our cameras and filter wheels will have
to survive huge temperature swings, from -100 to 0 degrees between night
and day on the surface. We also have to cope with dust and have installed,
and tested, windscreen wipers for the cameras to reduce this. Everything
is working fine and we can't wait for Beagle 2 to land on the surface'.
is also co-investigator on the ASPERA experiment on the orbiter. This will
measure how much material escapes from the Martian atmosphere at present.
This can then be extrapolated back 3.8 billion years to understand whether
the solar wind scavenging is sufficient to explain Mars' atmospheric loss
Andrew Coates - Beagle 2 Stereo Camera System lead investigator, and Mars
Express ASPERA co-investigator
Andrew Griffiths - Beagle 2 Stereo Camera System project manager
of the Mars Express Orbiter and the Beagle 2 Lander
- links to Mars Express and Beagle 2 at MSSL-UCL
www.beagle2.com - more information
about Beagle 2
- ESA Mars Express page