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Failed Mars probe 'came close to success'

Press AssociationPress Association 11/11/2016

A failed space probe thought to have crash-landed on Mars more than a decade ago came much closer to success than previously thought, research shows.

British-built Beagle 2 headed for the Red Planet on December 19, 2003, but vanished after failing to send a signal on Christmas day - its scheduled landing date.

In 2015, it was spotted on the Martian surface.

Now an "innovative research technique" called "reflection analysis" has shown the lander deployed at least three - perhaps all four - of its solar panels after touching down on the planet.

Researchers from De Montfort and Leicester universities used 3D software and the tool to match simulated and real images of Beagle 2 to establish how sunlight would have reflected off the panels.

The results were then compared with original images taken by the HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft.

The techniques were as close to a definitive explanation as would be possible without landing on the planet itself, according to lead digital design researcher Nick Higgett of De Montfort University.

"We are delighted to say that we have gone way beyond the original plan to reach this exciting conclusion that Beagle 2 did not crash, but landed and probably deployed most of its panels," he said.

The discovery comes about a month after another experimental probe, Schiaparelli, crashed on the surface of Mars.

Only the American space agency NASA has succeeded in getting a handful of functioning probes and rovers on the Martian surface.

The Red Planet is tricky because of its thin yet dynamic atmosphere, making for a fast and bumpy ride.

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