NASA has reacted warily to claims by the US National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) that it has located the Mars Polar Lander (MPL), its parachutes and protective shell on the surface near the south pole of the red planet.

The space agency says the analysts may have confused the hardware with noise interference in the camera system aboard the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS).

NIMA has conducted extensive analysis of the MGS images and claims it has spotted the intact MPL, which was thought to have crashed in December 1999 when its descent engine shut down prematurely.

NASA and NIMA have agreed to co-operate on further analysis of over 40 MGS images of the landing area. The Surveyor's resolution capability of 1.8m (6ft) is almost the same as the MPL's.

Confirmation that the MPL is intact will cast doubt on the integrity of the failure analysis and boost confidence in the design of this type of spacecraft. The next planned Mars landers will use a soft-landing technique using inflated cushioning airbags.

Source: Flight International