Mars lander to be put together at Baikonur cosmodrome

Beagle 2, the pioneering Mars lander that is being developed now by the European Space Agency, is to be put together prior to takeoff for the Red Planet at the assembly and testing block at Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Russian Aerospace Agency (Rosaviakosmos) disclosed Tuesday.

"Mars-bound Mars Express probe carrying that lander is scheduled to be launched in May/June 2003 with the aid of the Russian Soyuz FG launch vehicle from Baikonur Cosmodrome," the space agency clarified.

"The probe's landing on the Red Planet is scheduled for the end of next year," Rosaviakosmos added.

"The lander will be equipped with instruments designed to explore the chemical composition of the soil and rocks on the planet and to conduct studies into the problem of existence of organic life on Mars in the form of microorganisms," noted space agency officials.

Transportantion of Beagle 2 components is scheduled for December, with the assembly itself starting next February.

"At present, the cosmodrome's assembly and testing block is being cleaned up after the collapse of part of the roof, which occurred last May," Rosaviakosmos spokespeople added. "According to plan, by the end of 2002, [the block] will have been rebuilt and re-roofed."

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