Professor Pillinger was best known for his 2003 attempt to land a spacecraft on Mars in 2003.
He was at his home in Cambridge when he suffered a brain haemorrhage and fell into a deep coma. He later died at Addenbrooke’s Hospital without regaining consciousness.
He had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in May 2005.
In collaboration with the University of Leicester, Prof Pillinger built a probe to search for Martian life, past or present, naming it Beagle 2 after Charles Darwin’s HMS Beagle. The spacecraft vanished without trace.
After leaving Kingswood Grammar School, he went on to gain a PhD in chemistry from the University of Swansea. He was a research fellow at Cambridge University and then at The Open University, before becoming professor in interplanetary science at The Open University.
Prof Pillinger was married to Judith, also a scientist, and was a father of two. He was awarded his CBE in 2003.