Today's first real opportunity for the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter to hear a signal from the Beagle 2 lander passed in silence.
Hopes were high that Beagle 2 would receive and respond to commands sent by Mars Express as it flew over the presumed landing site at around 12.15 GMT. Not only was Mars Express flying over Isidis Planitia at an altitude of just 220 miles (350 km), giving it an ideal listening position, but it was the first time that the primary communication link with the orbiter had been used during the Beagle 2 mission.
Speaking from the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, the ESA Science Director, Professor David Southwood, said," I have, I'm afraid, to make a sad announcement, that today, when we were in conditions we thought were very good for getting direct communication between Mars Express – the 'mother ship' - and Beagle 2 – the 'baby' – we did not get any content of a signal, nor indeed a signal from the surface of Mars.
"This is not the end of the story. We have more shots to play …… but I have to say this is a setback."
"There are opportunities to contact Beagle still to come, though we've established today that it is certainly not in a particular communications mode that we had expected it to be in."
Professor Colin Pillinger, Beagle 2 lead scientist, expressed his thanks to everyone at ESOC for the efforts they had put in over the last few days.
"I think all I can say to the whole team at this stage is 'play to the final whistle'. It only takes a fraction of a second to score a goal, and that's the way we will have to look at this and not give up at this time, although it is the moment when we have to start looking at the future as well."
Efforts to contact Beagle 2 and to pin down its position on the Martian surface will continue in the weeks to come.
"We have another opportunity to look tomorrow in a more sensitive mode, the canister mode on Mars Express, which is the most sensitive mode Mars Express has for detecting an RF signal," said Dr Mark Sims, Beagle 2 mission manager.
"We have two Odyssey sessions tonight, when we will be attempting to command Beagle 2 in order to have a maximum chance of seeing data with the canister mode tomorrow. Both of those Odyssey sessions coincide with CSM 1 mode, both am and pm, which will be another opportunity to rule those scenarios out."
The most favourable opportunity will be on 12 January, the last Mars Express overpass that was pre-programmed into the lander before its separation from the orbiter on 19 December. However, this window will only be available if nothing has happened to reset or alter the lander's timeline.
"If we see nothing …, we're left with the scenario of Beagle 2 potentially operating but not being able to receive a signal, in which case we will have to wait till the last back-up mode in Beagle 2 becomes active, which is autotransmit," said Dr. Sims. "The latest date that will become active is 2 February."
"My personal view is that, if we have not received a signal within 5 to 10 days of that event, then we have to assume Beagle is lost."
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Since Christmas there have been 13 attempts to communicate with Beagle 2 through Mars Odyssey, Mars Express and Jodrell Bank radio telescope. However, Beagle 2 – Mars Express is the only system tested end-to-end.
The next opportunities for Mars Express to detect a signal from Beagle 2 are as follows:
8 January, around 12:50 GMT
9 January, around 13:27 GMT
10 January, around 14:04 GMT
12 January, around 02:02 GMT
A backup has been built into the communication schedule such that if 10 scheduled sessions pass unsuccessfully then Beagle 2 will switch to an emergency mode known as 'communication search mode 1'. When the lander switches to CSM 1 it should attempt to communicate during the best daytime and best night-time orbiter pass each day.
If a further 10 communication sessions are unsuccessful, Beagle should switch to ''communication search mode 2'. This second emergency mode involves the production of a signal throughout the Martian day (power is still conserved during the night). This mode should have begun by 5 January.
The results of future communication opportunities will be posted on the Beagle 2 and PPARC Web sites.
Source: Eurekalert & othersLast reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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-- Marie Curie