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Space Science

Construction Begins on Beagle 2 171

Posted by timothy
from the planetary-galapagos dept.
Bonker writes "CNN reports that Beagle 2, a lander that's part of ESA's next Mars mission, is beginning construction in England. The lander will be constructed in clean-room conditions to avoid being contaminated with any kind of terrestrial life so that it can more accurately determine if there is or was any kind of martian life once it arrives."
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Construction Begins on Beagle 2

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  • What's New (Score:5, Interesting)

    by barberio (42711) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @06:45AM (#4024010) Homepage
    The major thing about this mission that is new is that Beagle 2 contains an automated MassSpec. These things are normaly huge, and would have been imposable to get to mars at the time of Viking. But the Beagle 2 designers have worked on miniturizing and compacting one into the space and wieght available.

    This is where the "Beagle 2 will look for life" is coming from. Viking told us general stuff, Rover gave us Geology, Beagle 2 will go for an indepth investigation of exactly what the soil in the area it lands is composed of.
  • Re:What's new? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by flyingdisc (598575) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @06:47AM (#4024013)
    Each mission you get a chance to change what you are sending up. Previous missions took basic data - photgraphs, had rovers, basic chemical sensors etc. Based on what you've learnt from the previous missions you can start to look at the details. We're interested on whether there is life on mars so this mission will be tooled up for that.

    Amongst other things (recording the environmental conditions) Beagle 2 will be looking specifically for the presence of water (a keen idicator of whether life is possible). Sensors will also be measuring the abundance and complexity of organic compounds in the soils.

    The probe will be equiped with an arm capable or testing and extracting sample from the rock and dust around the landing site. This is a different approach from the netlander mission (NASA based) which will launch later in 2003, which will be armed with 2 rovers.

    There is much hype in the uk at least about the amount of scientific payload the machine will carry. If they pull it off, it looks set to inform on a whole new area of our knowledge of mars.

  • by dbCooper0 (398528) <dbc AT triton DOT net> on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @06:55AM (#4024035) Journal
    Meticulous precautions are taken so the visiting probes do not bring along unintended stowaways -- microorganisms that could conceivably survive the trip and live on Mars.

    That sounds all well and good - but what about non-organic contamination? What if a silicone boot on the lander's leg has an adverse reaction with/to Martian soil? How about the lander's alloy components? Emissions, anyone?

    Not to sluff off the importance of this mission, but it's not hard to concede that the only definitive evaluation of "life on Mars" (past/present/future) would be a method to observe and detect phenomena non-obtrusively!

  • contamination (Score:2, Interesting)

    by shd99004 (317968) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @07:13AM (#4024071) Homepage
    As the earth have been hit by asteroids originating from Mars, it makes sense to believe that pieces of Earth have found its way to Mars, right? Question is, how long is the average time for such debris to hit another planet, and can life survive, first of all the impact on our planet that caused the rocks to fly into space, secondly the long long travel in space before it hits Mars and thirdly, the impact on Mars?
    So about Beagle 2, can Earth organisms survive several months in vacuum, high radiation and extremely low temperature for months?
  • Re:contamination (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Xilman (191715) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @07:25AM (#4024087) Homepage Journal
    So about Beagle 2, can Earth organisms survive several months in vacuum, high radiation and extremely low temperature for months?

    Yes they can, as was demonstrated very convincing a while back when chunks of a Surveyor craft were returned from the moon by an Apollo crew. They were covered in microorganisms which had survived lunar conditions.

    Paul

  • by corleth (118672) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @07:50AM (#4024131)
    Now they keep it up for some sort of pride and prestige.

    ... and also because the principal of funding science without obvious immediate returns is still alive and well. The great thing about bureaucratic funding of science is that money can actually go to where it is needed for scientific advance, rather than to where there is obvious and immediate financial reward. It's important to note that governments do not come up with these missions. The missions are designed by the scientists, and whether or not a mission is funded is more a matter of those scientists convincing those bodies that fund their science to send enough money their way. Under normal circumstances a government will hardly intervene.

    ...the shuttle (Hermes) was scrapped.

    The shuttle was scrapped because it was found to be more expensive than traditional rocket launches, as NASA has discovered to its cost. :(

    ... the future in space belongs more to commercial interests than these bureaucratic moneyeating government space agencies.

    Maybe, eventually, commercial interests will dominate. However, for the time being there is no profit in planetary exploration. Also, I don't think that it's necessarily justified that government space agencies would be any more moneyeating than corporate ones. No shareholders or overpaid directors for a start. Okay, a government space agency might be less likely to cut corners by getting inferior components, in which case they would probably end up spending more, but I think that this is a good thing.

    -Karl

  • by marm (144733) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @08:48AM (#4024303)

    A sensible approach would be to let the Americans spend the money, then when it becomes commercial feasible people in Europe will start running commercial services up their anyway

    So you've never heard of Arianespace then? Arianespace has over 50% of the world's commercial launch market. That sounds kinda commercially feasible to me.

    And the reason? Simple. The Ariane rockets get satellites into space faster, with less hassle, and more reliably than anyone else. Which means that when you add up the total costs, Ariane also gets them into orbit cheaper than anyone else (although the Russians are competitive, and currently have a less-full launch schedule, which is why the Beagle 2 is scheduled to launch on a Russian rocket). The US doesn't even come close, mostly due to reliance on the horrendously-expensive Shuttle and the resulting negative impact that has had on the Atlas and Delta launch programmes.

    The EU is up with the best in terms of unmanned space vehicle technlogy too - as an example, the Huygens lander that is part of the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan was developed and built in the UK, and in 2000, Europe finally supplied over 50% of the world's geostationary communication satellites.

    NASA and the rest of the US space industry has talked for some years about doing it 'faster, cheaper, better' but right now, the Europeans are walking the walk rather than talking the talk and are reaping the benefits.

    However, outside the space industry itself the European space programme has an image problem - as demonstrated by your post, even Europeans have no idea how well the European space industry is doing. This, in turn, has a negative impact on future sales of satellites and launch services. What it needs is good PR, and the best way of doing that is by headline-grabbing space science programmes, and Beagle 2 is a good example. Think of it as a long-term marketing investment by European governments. What is spent now on space science projects will, if the mission is successful, repay itself many times in the future in terms of sales of satellites and launch services and the tax revenues that are derived from that, not to mention the effect it has on overall national prestige and worldwide perception as leaders in technology, which has other spinoff benefits.

    The Americans and Russians have understood this for decades, which is why there has been continued investment in space science programmes of limited immediate economic benefit in these countries, and why you have this distorted view of the world in which American and Russian space technology is far superior to everyone else's.

    Just because you are unable to see short-term economic benefit does not mean that such economic benefit will not happen later and perhaps indirectly: all it shows it that you are blinkered by short-termism. Sadly, such views are common and are in some ways the biggest blight on the Western way of life, but I'll save that for another rant.

  • by corleth (118672) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @10:00AM (#4024715)
    Beagle 2 is a UK lander. The UK government (through PPARC) funds the instrument with additional cash coming from private donations/sponsorship. It was built in the UK by a team from the UK with some contributions from overseas.

    Mars Express is an ESA mission consisting of a Mars orbiter.

    Beagle 2 will piggy-back on Mars Express, and use it as a data relay so, yes, it would be impossible without ESA. But, for that matter, the mission also uses NASA's deep space network for receiving data so it would also be impossible (at present) without NASA> However, the lander itself is from the UK.

    -Karl
  • Re:Correction please (Score:2, Interesting)

    by emir (111909) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @11:51AM (#4025386)
    isnt united kingdom == england (with wales) + scotland while gb is like with northern ireland and everything else. i am maybe wrong....

"And do you think (fop that I am) that I could be the Scarlet Pumpernickel?" -- Looney Tunes, The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950, Chuck Jones)

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