Place in space for sponsors

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The Independent Online
WHAT COULD be the most expensive advertising space this side of the Milky Way offers companies the possibility of self promotion that is, literally, out of this world.

The scientist behind the British mission to send an unmanned probe to explore the surface of Mars for signs of life is offering companies the chance of placing their advertising logos on the tiny spacecraft for a few million pounds.

The Government has agreed to provide an extra pounds 5m towards the estimated pounds 25m-pounds 30m cost of the Beagle 2 lander but the project organiser, Professor Colin Pillinger of the Open University, said he still needs between pounds 7m and pounds 10m to ensure it is ready for take-off in 2003.

Professor Pillinger has approached a number of companies interested in advertising either on the lander itself or on one of the three inflatable balloons that will cushion the probe's impact on landing. "We don't want cigarette advertising or anything like that, but adverts that represent com-panies associated with the philosophy of the project," Professor Pillinger said.

Beagle 2 is the size of a microwave oven and will deploy a small "mole" on a 40ft tether to take underground samples of Martian soil to search for the chemical signatures of life.

Professor Pillinger has to raise the extra finance quickly to meet the stringent deadlines imposed by the European Space Agency, which is scheduled to launch Beagle 2 on its Mars Express mission.

He is hoping to include the names of companies willing to sponsor the project in a promotional video of the landing, which he says will be seen by as many people as the actual lander. Music by the Britpop band Blur will be used to test transmission equipment and its cameras will be calibrated on a spot painting by the artist Damien Hirst.