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The space scientist built a probe to search for Martian life, naming it Beagle 2 after Charles Darwin's HMS Beagle.
It was the first time an individual researcher had sent their own vessel into space.
The spacecraft vanished without trace but Prof Pillinger carried on pushing space agencies to complete what he called "unfinished business on Mars".
He was a professor in interplanetary science at the Open University, where he headed the Department of Physical Sciences until 2005.