Tim Furniss/LONDON

The European Space Agency (ESA) is investing $20.4 million in the UK's $40 million Beagle 2 Mars landing project. Firm funding of $6.8 million has been initially committed, and a further $13.6 million is to be provided later in the programme.

ESA "will become more closely associated with Beagle 2", says the UK Open University's Prof Colin Pillinger, who is spearheading the project.

Beagle 2 will be launched piggyback with ESA's Mars Express orbiter in 2003 aboard a Starsem Soyuz Fregat booster from Baikonur. The 30kg (66lb) Beagle will take samples of the Martian soil for signs of water and life, analysing them for chemical isotopes, and will measure atmospheric methane. It will also transmit images from the surface.

Around $4.8 million of the ESA funding is to "transfer vital work which has not been progressing according to schedule" to the UK's Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA). DERA is the Beagle 2 partner which is working on the telecommunications payload, says Pillinger. "Henceforth, all telecommunications work for the Mars Express and Beagle 2 will be conducted as an end-to-end package by DERA," he says. This shows "the confidence ESA has in the Beagle 2 engineering team".

The remaining $1.8 million ESA contribution will fund ESA engineers participating in the project.

Following a positive independent international review of the project, ESA will provide another $13.6 million to the Beagle team during the programme. The UK Government has committed $2.5 million.

Pillinger emphasises that "none of the changes in funding have anything to do with Beagle 2 sponsorship packages and most certainly do not substitute for any arrangement already made or being made". It is planned to cash in on sponsorship arrangements "nearer to the launch and landing when they are at their most lucrative".

Source: Flight International