ONE of Britain’s leading space robotics experts, who was brought up in East Lancashire, has died at the age of 58.

Tributes have flooded in for Professor David Barnes, a former student at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Blackburn, who was instrumental in the UK’s Mars exploration programme.

Prof Barnes, who grew up in Fence, was responsible for some of the technology behind the unsuccessful Beagle 2 Lander robot mission in 2003.

He was most recently head of space robotics and professor of space and planetary robotics within the Department of Computer Science at Aberystwyth University in Wales.

The UK Space Agency said it learnt of Prof Barnes’ death ‘with great sadness’ and described him as ‘a central figure’ in Britain’s Mars exploration programme.

A statement released on behalf of the government body said: “In addition to his acknowledged scientific expertise, Dave played a key role in developing the UK’s strategy for involvement in Mars, being on the Aurora Advisory Committee from 2005 until 2012.

“Importantly, he ensured that the UK space programme benefited from advances in computer sciences and conversely fed back space research into applications on Earth.

“Dave was also a founding member of the UK Space and Planetary Robotics Network, and was a member of the UK STFC Particle Physics, Astronomy and Nuclear Physics Science Committee (PPAN).

“His boundless enthusiasm and personality will be sorely missed.”

Prof Barnes, who died on July 25 after suffering a heart attack, graduated from the University of Bradford in 1980 before going on to obtain a masters degree in machine intelligence and robotics from the University of London, Queen Mary College, and a PhD in artificial intelligence and robotics from Aberystwyth University.

His funeral took place in Aberystwyth last Wednesday.