The European Space Agency (ESA) has given the go-ahead for the UK to build the Beagle 2 lander, which is scheduled to ride aboard the space agency's Mars Express orbiter when it launches in June 2003.

The UK Beagle team, which is led by the country's Open University and includes the University of Leicester, convinced ESA that the $25 million funds that were needed could be raised through a sponsorship package promoted through the British National Space Centre.

A number of investors have already committed funds, including the spacecraft builder Matra Marconi Space, Martin Baker, the provider of the craft's landing system, pop group Blur and the UK Government.

The instrument package on board Beagle 2 will analyse samples of Martian rock, soil and atmosphere for signs of past or present life on the planet.

Source: Flight International