Representatives from four international space agencies met at the British National Space Centre in London this month to discuss their plans for Mars exploration.

NASA intends to launch a Mars orbiter and lander next January, but these plans may change as a result of last year's investigations into the failures of the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander.

In 2003, the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to launch the Mars Express orbiter and the UK's Beagle 2 lander, while NASA also aims to launch a second lander carrying a Mars rover.

Japan, meanwhile, hopes that its space-travelling Mars orbiter, Nozomi, will arrive at the red planet in 2003.

French space agency CNES' orbiter will follow in 2005. It will include four small craft, called Netlanders, which will land at various Mars surface locations.

A third NASA Mars lander and rover will also be launched to gather samples into a canister, which will be fired into Mars orbit and collected by the French orbiter for return to Earth.

If the 2005 Mars sample return mission is delayed, ESA and CNES hope that operations of their orbiters can be extended to support the later mission.

Meanwhile, following the detection by Stanford University of what may have been very faint signals from NASA's lost Polar Lander, a worldwide effort using a network of radio telescopes to make new contact has been inconclusive.

Stanford had believed that it may have detected a faint signal on the lander's frequency while reviewing recorded data from earlier attempts to contact the craft after its apparently failed landing on 3 December.

Source: Flight International