The status of the UK National Space Centre's Beagle 2 Mars lander project should be determined from 6 January. Initial communication attempts failed after the Beagle entered the Martian atmosphere on 25 December.

NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter and the Jodrell Bank radio telescope in the UK failed to detect any signal from Beagle 2 up to 30 December, when the lander was due to automatically switch into communications search mode.

An image of the Isidis Planitia landing area taken by the Mars Global Surveyor on 25 December showed no dust storms to indicate high winds.

The European Space Agency's Mars Express space probe enters a new orbit around Mars on 4 January, however, offering new opportunities for contact on 6, 12, 13 and 17 January.

Beagle 2 may have suffered a communications system malfunction, or be tilted at an acute angle preventing it from fully deploying its solar panels. It may also have landed in the largest crater in the area, blocking its signals. It may have suffered atmospheric entry heatshield, parachute or balloon landing system failures.

NASA is, however, close to landing two Mars Exploration Rovers on the planet's surface. The first Rover, Spirit, should land in the Gusev crater on 4 January. The second, Opportunity, will land on 24 January.

Source: Flight International