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Space Science

Jodrell Bank Telescope Gets No Signal From Beagle 425

Posted by michael
from the lawn-dart dept.
tipiyano writes "Continuing the story of Beagle 2 from earlier today it seems like the hope for Beagle 2 surviving the landing at Mars is reducing as the Jodrell Bank telescope didn't receive any signal from Beagle. In the words of a mission manager, 'I wasn't too worried about the missed link with Odyssey, but it starts getting serious if Jodrell Bank cannot get a signal either'."
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Jodrell Bank Telescope Gets No Signal From Beagle

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  • D'oh. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 25, 2003 @11:06PM (#7810801)
    I was having a pretty good Christmas until this news hit... :(
  • by Draveed (664730) on Thursday December 25, 2003 @11:13PM (#7810841)
    Airbags are still more cost effective than trying for a soft landing. The 2 Viking probes cost how much, like a billion? Beagle 2 cost only $62 million (or maybe it was in pounds, I forget). So if Britain built 16 Beagle probes (for $992 million) and sent them to Mars, it would cost about the same, but cover more of the planet than the Viking landers. Even if only a third survived, lets say just 3 since you can't a fraction of a working probe, it still covers one more spot than Viking.
  • I have hope... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mOoZik (698544) on Thursday December 25, 2003 @11:33PM (#7810909) Homepage
    Not that having hope will somehow change the fate of the lander, but I think we shouldn't all discount the very probable circumstance that it survived. I truly hope it has survived the landing.

  • by fname (199759) on Thursday December 25, 2003 @11:48PM (#7810968) Journal
    Well, this episode goes to show you why space programs cost so much. As a prior poster pointed, Beagle was much cheaper that Viking landers. The quote I saw was $1 billion for Viking and $62 million for Beagle, although that $62 million is a bit fictitious since it piggybacked a ride to Mars on Mars Express, so the real cost may have been higher.

    But let's say it cost $200 million. Let's say the Brits managed to send 5 identical models 1 year apart, and 2 worked fine. Would anyone be celebrating 2 successful landers for the price of 1 Viking? Nope, instead there would be an outcry about how the space program wastes money by destroying 3 $200 million missions.

    So what do the managers do? Well, NASA had a couple high-profile disasters and a couple resounding successes. Pathfinder got a lot of ink, but NASA was held up to a lot of ridicule for its failure of the failed trips. After skipping the 2001 window for flights to Mars, in 2003 NASA & JPL sent 2 very expensive (think $400-600 million each) landers to Mars. Hopefully, both will be successful. If both fail, it may indicate that they just got lucky with Pathfinder and airbags aren't the way to go.

    Oh, why did they cost so much more than Pathfinder & Beagle (keeping in mind that $400-600 million includes launch, the trip to Mars, the craft itself & the management of the program)? I'm sure it's because things were checked more thoroughly, the JPL managers were more conservative, and every problem that came up was fully addressed.

    On the other hand, APL seemed to have a fairly poor approach to system architecture, as can be seen by reading the NASA inquiry into the Contour mishap [nasa.gov]. The APL investigation fixed blame quickly without making a thorough investigation. The full report dug into the cause a lot more thoroughly & made a much more likely assessment,
    The CONTOUR Board concludes that the probable proximate cause for loss of the CONTOUR spacecraft was overheating of the forward-end of the spacecraft due to base heating from the SRM exhaust plume. The CONTOUR SRM nozzle was embedded within the spacecraft to a greater degree than is typical (Fig. 3), and the resultant near-field effect of exhaust plume heating was not adequately accounted for in the design. Overheating may have caused substantial material weakening and structural degradation, which could have led to catastrophic dynamic instability.
    So why is space expensive? Almost every spacecraft (as opposed to satellites or launch vehicle) is essentially designed for 1 or 2 time use, and all the parts need to work, and, as highlighted above, need to work well together. That requires real engineering work involving analysis, research, testing and comparison to heritage programs. If you want to go from 50% to 90% reliability, you probably triple your costs (at least).

    I hope they find Beagle. But landing a complex science instrument on a distant planet is difficult, and occasional failure is to be expected. If someone figures out a way to do it very well & very cheap, these missions may become as routine as a satellite launch. Maybe it'll be NASA or the ESA or some small entrepreneur. Good luck to them all!
  • Patiently waiting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vt0asta (16536) on Friday December 26, 2003 @12:05AM (#7811054)
    There is no reason to bash the Europeans as a whole as they like to do Americans. Comments I seem to remember... "if NASA would stop hurling probes like lawn darts they'd actually get somewhere", etc... Let's try to show the Europeans a little sympathy, and try to be humble about our own successes and failures.

    ESA had to know it was going to be hard to pull off a Mars landing, two countries (US, Russia) with a hell of a lot more experience have had difficulty with the same task. A blow to thier pride, yes, but the results in my opinion were not unexpected.
  • by mOoZik (698544) on Friday December 26, 2003 @12:09AM (#7811073) Homepage
    Let's not forget the moon was thoroughly studied by spacecraft before a single person was sent. Also, it had no atmosphere, so there was never the problem of entry and friction and all that good stuff. Of course, a human can possibly take into account factors which the computer might not, but as of now, no manned space re-entry vehicle lands under human control: they're all automated. It is just too much for us to handle.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Friday December 26, 2003 @12:37AM (#7811166) Journal
    The APL investigation fixed blame quickly without making a thorough investigation.

    How is that any different than any other large beurocracy? You can't expect NASA to be better managed than other like-size organizations. I have worked in enough different organizations to know that small ones are ruined by marketers and large ones are ruined by bumbling beurocrats, and those in between are ruined by both. Same as it ever was.

  • by csirac (574795) on Friday December 26, 2003 @12:37AM (#7811167) Homepage
    I find it hilarious that you can speculate the quality of the Beagle or any other mission based entirely on money spent.
  • by mhw25 (590290) on Friday December 26, 2003 @01:37AM (#7811332)
    According to the Beeb article,

    Mars Express is the major part of the European mission - Beagle was a late add-on - and will search for water, ice and key chemicals buried under the Martian surface.

    That is, the lander is not the be all and end all of the ESA mission. After all, Mars Express will be looking for the potential signs of the possibility life on Mars - buried water, ice and chemicals - on a planetwide scale . Beagle will only be a stationary point sampler. I'm finding it strange that all that is being shouted about is the smaller part of the mission probably failed, while the greater whole is more or less working as planned.

    I'm not arguing that surface lander is not useful, just that it is not the main focus of this mission. We still have two shots at landers - and these are rovers, not stationary samplers, arriving soon:

    Spirit, the first of NASA's identical robot explorers, is expected to land Jan. 3. Its sibling, Opportunity, is scheduled to settle on the opposite side of the planet January 24. CNN [cnn.com]

    Beagle2 is kind of like the icing on the cake. Even if we lost it, but with Mars Express working we can still have our cake and eat it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2003 @01:52AM (#7811377)
    Has everyone completely forgotten about the solar flares? They were resposible for the loss of the Japanese mission and affected all the other missions currently on route.

    The lattest flares were among the most powerfull ever recorded, so I wouldn't be surprised if Beagle2 systems were affected by the sudden storm of magentically charged particles that came from the sun. Theoretically the probes where supposed to be magnetically shielded against these things but the strength of these lattest flares was way over what is normally expected.

    There are a number of possible reasons to why we are not getting any transmissions from it. It's possible that the landing system didn't deploy properly or even at all, or the main system is malfunctioning or simply not working at all as it should after the landing. The probe could have also landed too far from the expected landing site due to the infamous martian storms that plage the planet from time to time or landed in a rocky area and when it opened a boulder may have tilded the radio dish the wrong way.

    Mars Express, the orbiter, has yet to reach a stable polar orbit, as it is currently on a very eliptical orbit, but as soon as it does it will use it's high definition cameras to try and locate Beagle2 on the surface. But that's is going to take a while. Until then either we get some kind of message from Beagle or we'll just have to wait.
  • liberate mars (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lord_Dweomer (648696) on Friday December 26, 2003 @02:00AM (#7811407) Homepage
    You know, if this were a US probe, this would be war. How DARE those martians [caltech.edu] shoot down the probe. They must be nervous about us Earth folk detecting their WMD [bettsiv.com]. People of Earth, WE MUST LIBERATE MARS!!!

    P.S.
    I will TRULY be amazed/stupified if this gets modded insightful.

  • by Darby (84953) on Friday December 26, 2003 @04:31AM (#7811727)
    exactly. we have a common goal (space exploration). why do we have to be patriotism and politics into this?

    The word is Jingoism. It's basically the opposite of patriotism.

  • by Goth Biker Babe (311502) on Friday December 26, 2003 @04:45AM (#7811744) Homepage Journal
    If it is dead (which is still a big 'if') then I won't be saddened. If the Europeans had decided to help us in Iraq, I might be thinking differently - but the major contributors to the project (as funding is based on GDP) -- France and Germany -- I feel little for their inherent failure.

    Beagle 2 itself was a British project and I kind of remember that we had a fairly significant input in to the recent Iraq war. For one Blair was a useful translator of Shrub to English.
  • by Haeleth (414428) on Friday December 26, 2003 @10:09AM (#7812265) Journal
    This isn't a matter of political correctness. In Britain we've used the old "it's the taking part that counts" line for far, far longer than the "modern PC climate" has existed.

    Those who try and fail are heroes - they're as heroic as those who try and succeed. Let's take a non-PC example - think of the soldier who defends a bridge against hopeless odds. He kills maybe a dozen or so enemies, but then he's cut down. By your definition, he is not a hero! But I think you would find your view in the minority.
  • by Rich0 (548339) on Friday December 26, 2003 @10:12AM (#7812280) Homepage
    There are a couple of competing factors with space probes:

    1. No space probe is truly "cheap" - it costs millions of dollars to put together even the most rudimentary probe and launch it.

    2. When figuring the probability of failure of a complex system you have to multiply the probabilities of the individual parts. So if you have 10 parts which all must work and they all have a 2% chance of failure then your overall probe has a 1-0.98^10 = 18% chance of failure. If you have 100 parts which all must work it is probably worth paying the extra million dollars to make them 99.999% reliable.

    Somebody else pointed out that NASA/ESA/etc depend on PR for funding. As a result, it makes more sense to spend a billion dollars a mission with a 100% success rate than $30 million with a 50% success rate (people don't consider it a waste when the mission actually works - but the cheap probes are perceived as wasting $30 million every time they crash - even though on average they only cost $60 per successful mission).

"No job too big; no fee too big!" -- Dr. Peter Venkman, "Ghost-busters"

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