The U.K. Space Agency is holding a news conference Friday about the European Space Agency's Beagle 2 Mars lander, prompting speculation that the probe has finally been found more than 11 years after dropping off the radar at the end of its journey to the Red Planet.
The Beagle 2 was supposed to touch down on Dec. 25, 2003. The lander successfully deployed from ESA's Mars Express orbiter on Dec. 19 of that year, but no touchdown confirmation came, and most experts think Beagle 2 crashed on the Red Planet's surface.
The lineup for Friday's three-hour press event, which will be held in London, suggests that the long search for the lander or its remains may be over.
The speakers include Beagle 2 manager Mark Sims; U.K. Space Agency Chief Executive David Parker; Alvaro Giménez Cañete, ESA's director of science and robotic exploration; and John Bridges, a science team member for NASA's Curiosity rover and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Bridges works with MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, also known as HiRISE, which takes super-sharp pictures of the Martian surface. HiRISE has photographed the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers from space, and it also found NASA's twin Viking landers, which touched down on the Red Planet in 1976.
Friday's event unfolds from 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. local time (4:15 to 7:15 a.m. ET) at the Royal Society's Kohn Centre in London.
Beagle 2 was part of the Mars Express mission, which launched in June 2003. The Mars Express orbiter, which served as Beagle 2's mothership, is still studying the Red Planet.
The solar-powered, 3.3-foot-wide (1-meter-wide) lander was designed to study Red Planet geology, weather and climate, and search for possible signs of Martian life.
ESA says the total cost of the Mars Express mission is 300 million euros ($350 million).