The unfortunate Beagle 2 Mars lander had come 'frustratingly' close to success when it landed on the Martial surface, according to a new study, which suggests that the mission failed because the lander failed to unfurl all of its solar panels.

Launch of Beagle 2

Beagle 2 was launched in 2003 to study the atmosphere and soil of Mars. The lander was designed to collect soil samples from Martian surface and analyse them for signs of organic molecules in a small on-board laboratory. However, this bicycle wheel-sized lander failed to communicate as planned with scientists on earth in December 2003 and was believed to have crashed somewhere on Mars.

The search for signals from the lander continued for many months but those signals never reached the Earth. Now almost 13 years after the Beagle 2 launch, scientists have revealed that the lander had successfully touched down on Mars, but failed to unfurl all of its panels properly.

NASA's Mars reconnaissance orbiter found Beagle 2 in 2014

In 2014, nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) found Beagle 2 and captured lander's images through its HiRise camera. The images of the landing site indicated that the spacecraft had landed properly on Mars but could deploy only two of its four solar panels. Now, scientists from the University of Leicester and De Montfort University – after examining NASA's images and some virtual images – claim that the lander deployed no less than three, possibly all four, of its panels.

According to scientists, had all the panels deployed properly, the radio antenna would have sent signals back to Earth.

Mark Sims, former Beagle 2 mission manager, who is now a professor of astrobiology and space science at the University of Leicester, says the new findings suggest that the mission team had not made "many mistakes."

Technique used in new analysis

In the new study, scientists first simulated possible configurations of the lander on the Martian surface.

The amount of sunlight reflected off the simulated lander was then compared with actual images captured by NASA's MRO, which enabled the team to identify which configuration of opened solar panels was the best fit. The results obtained suggested that the lander failed only at the final hurdle, and was unable to send back signals or receive instructions from scientists on Earth.

Sims believes the new findings bear not only emotional significance for the Beagle 2 mission team, but they will also help scientists in improving the design of future landers.