The team behind the British Martian lander Beagle 2 has received a prestigious space exploration award for the landing which was considered a failure until the lander’s rediscovery earlier this year.
Despite having been lost without a trace for 11 years, the flower-shaped Beagle 2 was eventually able to enter history books as Europe’s first successful Martian landing – a feat that has now been awarded the 2015 Sir Arthur Clarke Award for Industry/Project Team.
Undeterred by the complete absence of data about the lander's whereabouts, the team behind the project, originally led by the late planetary scientist Colin Pillinger, was able to identify the lander in a partially deployed configuration on the surface of the Red Planet in January 2015 from images obtained by the HiRISE camera on Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
“This mission was only one, or possibly two solar panels away from being an outstanding success,” said the award announcement.
“Images from Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE camera show that Beagle 2 successfully landed in its intended landing ellipse on the surface of Mars on Christmas Day 2003 and began deploying its solar panels but only two or perhaps three of the four panels opened thus preventing the probe from communicating with Earth.”
The unexpected discovery proved that the heat-protecting shield, parachutes as well as landing air-bags and software worked as designed.
Beagle 2 mission manager Professor Mark Sims received the award at the UK Space Conference in Liverpool together with the chief engineer Professor Jim Clemmet.
“It was a great pleasure to accept the award with Jim Clemmet on behalf of the whole Beagle 2 team,” said Professor Sims. “It is a great pity that Colin Pillinger who lead the Beagle 2 project, George Fraser and Dave Barnes who all sadly passed last year are not here to see the award which recognises the extraordinary efforts made by the whole team, industry and academia to design, build, test and deliver Beagle 2 to the surface of Mars.”
The Sir Arthur Clarke Award for Industry/Project Team recognises significant achievements by a commercial or government-led team in all space activities including design, manufacturing and operations of space systems.