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Mars Space

Beagle 2 Official Inquiry Released 113

Posted by timothy
from the unfortunately-only-lassie-can-read-it dept.
smasch writes "The ESA/UK Commission of Inquiry into Beagle 2 has released their report (PDF) on why the Mars lander Beagle 2 failed. While the report does not name a single cause for the failure, it does name several problems including the lack of funding, lack of margin in the design, and treating Beagle 2 as a scientific instrument rather than as a spacecraft. The report also made nineteen recommendations to prevent these sorts of failures on future missions. We have previously mentioned the Beagle 2 failure, although the official report was not released to the public at that time. The original story from MarsToday.com is available here."
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Beagle 2 Official Inquiry Released

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  • Sod 'em (Score:5, Informative)

    by RobertTaylor (444958) <roberttaylor1234@nOsPAM.gmail.com> on Sunday February 06, 2005 @07:28AM (#11588899) Homepage Journal
    A good q & a on the inquiry [bbc.co.uk]

    Professor Pillinger rejected the inquiry's findings as "wisdom after the event". He said: "The gains we could have made from Beagle far outweighed the risks."
  • by Realistic_Dragon (655151) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @07:33AM (#11588911) Homepage
    1) Do not do calculations requiring a high degree of accuracy on a Pentium.
  • Just a guess. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mikeophile (647318)
    But could the failure of the Beagle 2 have been due to it's cratering [futura-sciences.com] in the Martian dirt?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    For playing with my shiny new green laser pointer and shooting down beagle 2 by mistaking it for an aircraft.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Excellent- all eager /.ers click to view the report. At first, everything goes according to plan. After a while, the whole report disappears from view, with the host citing communication difficulies. A few days later, the report is written off as lost...
  • by Rob Carr (780861) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @08:10AM (#11588985) Homepage Journal
    According to the ESA did not have adequate funding in place when Beagle 2 was given the go-ahead. Their own report said that under those circumstances, the program never should have been started. Major cost over-runs in construction, caused by bad management and (strangely enough) lack of established funding, worsened the situation.

    Add to that the attempt to design the Beagle 2 as a "bolt-on" experiment instead of a separate spacecraft (which it would be during separation, re-entry and landing) meant that the Beagle 2 was doomed. The myriad possible failure modes highlight how bad this decision was.

    Of course, because no one thought to have telemetry from the Beagle 2 once it separated - only after it landed safely - the only way anyone will ever figure out what really went wrong will be to recover the pieces and do a physical analysis. If those future explorers discover there were multiple failure modes, I wouldn't be surprised.

    No government will send explorers to find out. Instead, some Richard Branson-like people (i.e. rich nerds) will get together on their vacation to Mars and mount an expedition to the wreckage site and announce the results to the press.

    • Well, I wouldn't leave administration out either.

      The report cites repeated reviews finding highlighting those funding and design issues, yet no action was ever taken on most of it.
      Add to that a schedule with effectively zero margin for error, no central organization to manage the disparate groups (or sort out the fights when Martin Baker and Astrium couldn't work things out), and inadequate documentation, and you have a guaranteed disaster.

      You can't build a complicated system without command, control and
    • caused by bad management and (strangely enough) lack of established funding, worsened the situation.

      These inquiries could save a lot of money by creating boiler-plate inquiries that end up finding the same result anyhow:


      Dear Inquiry Team Members,

      After _____ months of study, we have concluded that the loss of ________________ was the result of poor management and lack of sufficient funding.

      Sincerely,

      Dr. ________________, Chief Investigator

    • We did think of post-ejection telemetry, but there was insufficient mass budget to add electronics to the back face in order to transmit it, and it used too much power for the small battery, also mass constrained, and Mars-Express wasn't overhead during the descent and entry phase (it was parking). The simple "ping" system on the JPL MERs worked well. We should copy that next time.
  • Groups of three (Score:4, Interesting)

    by QuickFox (311231) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @08:31AM (#11589018)
    They should send three nearly identical copies of the same lander (re-using the same design and development effort), and have them land close enough to communicate directly with each other by radio.

    This way, if one lander loses the ability to communicate with the orbiters or with Earth, or even two of them lose it, the third can relay their data. If something goes wrong on a lander, debugging should become far easier if you can still communicate with the broken system.

    The scientific instruments could be distributed among them, each carrying roughly a third of the load. This would greatly reduce the size and weight of each lander, and this in turn would simplify the parachute system, the landing system, and many other parts.

    Alternatively each lander could have the same weight, with a more varied range of instruments. The Beagle2 systeem is already impressively small and versatile.

    Some instruments might be repeated on two landers or on all three, especially some very small and lightweight instruments.

    If the landers are small and light enough, all three can travel on the same ship from Earth to Mars. In fact, I think on a single ship you could send several groups with three landers each.
    • Re:Groups of three (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 06, 2005 @08:37AM (#11589034)
      3 landers = 3 times the parachutes, external equipment, communications systems. With that kind of weigh allowance, we could do a lot more. Beagle 2 was static - with 3 times the weight allowance, we could have a rover.

      Not everything will run perfectly - NASA dropped a fragile disc into the desert at 500m/s last year if you remember. But we can't afford to build double redundancy into already expensive spacecraft.
      • Re:Groups of three (Score:3, Insightful)

        by QuickFox (311231)
        The main cost is design and development. Repeating hardware that has already been designed and developed is far, far cheaper.

        Note that the Beagle2 rover was just a small part of the Mars Express spacecraft that went to Mars.

        A rover would be great! But it's also more risky, and far more expensive. The Beagle2 system was impressively cheap. With redundancy we could get success at a far lower cost than with a rover.

        I do feel that Europe should eventually send rovers, but perhaps not in its first mission lan
      • Not everything will run perfectly - NASA dropped a fragile disc into the desert at 500m/s last year if you remember

        It wasn't falling nearly that fast.

        500 m/s would be faster than the speed of sound. In reality is was falling at about 200 mph (around 89m/s)
      • 500m/s is 1,118mph.

        that means genesis would have crashed into the ground at about mach 1.5.

        no, genesis crashed at 89m/s (200mph).

        your guess was better than this guy's [slashdot.org] though.
    • I thought Martians were supposed to send landers HERE in groups of three. Perhaps we should give the next-generation Beagles a bunch of death-rays as well?
      • I thought Martians were supposed to send landers HERE in groups of three

        Does anyone remember the 70s TV series UFO [imdb.com]? Earth was protected by three space-fighters each armed with a single missile. Oh, and a moon base staffed with English women in purple glitter wigs and short silver skirts. If only 1980 had really turned out like that!

    • Though the 'redundancy'-suggestion is quite good, the price is too high. Another suggestion might be some satellites in geostationary orbit, dedicated in (1)observing the life and times of Mars-rovers and (2) continually streaming everything back to Earth. Minimum of 4, 8 would be nice. Add some AI or expert-system to manage them and the whole project would not depend so much on the connection between Earth and Mars. They could hang around for quite a few years and after the write-off of the rovers they (th
    • Re:Groups of three (Score:3, Informative)

      by photonic (584757)

      They should send three nearly identical copies of the same lander (re-using the same design and development effort), and have them land close enough to communicate directly with each other by radio.

      I don't know if that would have saved the mission. The report clearly hints that the failure could have been a design error due to bad management/lack of funding/lack of testing/lack of time. From the TFInquiry:
      -Air-bag design not robust and the testing programme not sufficient;
      -Risk of collision between the back

      • Indeed, it's imperative that the mission be well designed and tested. No amount of redundancy will help against catastrophic design flaws.

        But I read somewhere that among all the Mars lander missions, only one out of three succeeded. I'm guessing that many of them were carefully made, and failed because they encountered unexpected difficulties.
        • Re:Groups of three (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Galvatron (115029)
          I'd actually guess the opposite. If most space missions succeed, but only 1 in 3 Mars missions succeeds, then it seems reasonable to guess that space agencies have a tendancy to underestimate the difficulty of landing on Mars, and underengineer many of their probes.

          As for the original idea, I'm somewhat confused how having 3 probes all land near each other would improve communication. They already have satellites in orbit to relay communications, how would having another lander nearby help?

          • I'm somewhat confused how having 3 probes all land near each other would improve communication,

            The way I understand it, the Beagle2 antenna for communication from ground to orbit is directional, communication works only when the orbiting craft is almost directly overhead. This means that communication is impossible during descent, and also fails if the lander breaks, for instance by landing on a sharp rock, or if the "clam" fails to open, or if it lands on a steep slope or a rock that makes the antenna po
          • Re:Groups of three (Score:3, Insightful)

            by bani (467531)
            or maybe... ...landing on mars is difficult, even for the best engineers, and landing on mars is still a big gamble no matter how you engineer your probes.
    • This way, if one lander loses the ability to communicate with the orbiters or with Earth, or even two of them lose it, the third can relay their data. If something goes wrong on a lander, debugging should become far easier if you can still communicate with the broken system.
      Man, sshing into a probe on another planet...I can't even begin to imagine how much lag the tech would experience. It would be painful to work with.
    • They should send three nearly identical copies of the same lander (re-using the same design and development effort), and have them land close enough to communicate directly with each other by radio....This way, if one lander loses the ability to communicate with the orbiters or with Earth, or even two of them lose it, the third can relay their data.

      Cotcha trying to imagine a beowulf cluster of probes
    • Curiously, there was something similar idea the Europeans had called NETLANDER, which would have landed a network of 4 geophysical stations on the surface of mars. Unfortunately, the project was cancelled in 2003.

      Links:

      http://smsc.cnes.fr/NETLANDER/ [smsc.cnes.fr]
      http://ganymede.ipgp.jussieu.fr/GB/projets/netland er/ [jussieu.fr]
    • Tht's the CNES Netlander project: http://smsc.cnes.fr/NETLANDER/. ESA dropped support for it becuase it's too expensive. Pity, because a fine idea.
  • Locomotion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by QuickFox (311231) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @08:54AM (#11589062)
    Looking at some technical details [beagle2.com] (click "Technology"), I get the impression that Beagle2 might be able to crawl over the surface.

    The instrument arm is strong enough to lift the instrument package. This strength might be enough to let it push down firmly on the ground, maybe 10 cm away, and then pull itself forward.

    Maybe it couldn't pull along all the solar cell parts, maybe it would have to leave them behind, connected through an electric cable.

    There's nothing in the description of Beagle2 that suggests that they have thought of this possibility.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Rule #1: Don't Have the British build the electronic parts"
  • um, the real reason the beagle 2 failed is very simple: they told it to land in a crater. see my comment [slashdot.org] on the previous mention [slashdot.org] of this subject on slashdot for four urls to articles supporting this.
    • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @02:34PM (#11590859) Homepage Journal
      um, the real reason the beagle 2 failed is very simple: they told it to land in a crater.

      Unless you have pin-point landing technology, you cannot really avoid operating near the vacinity of craters on Mars, because they are almost everywhere. But compared to all the other possible risks, landing on the wall of a large crater is fairly remote, probably something like 1/200.

      Viking 1 was selected to land in one of the most crater-free parts of Mars. Images revealed a giant boulder about 20 feet from the lander. If it had landed on that boulder, it would have been toast. A large pointy rock can pop airbags also.
    • just a remark to the mismoderators: hardly redundant, since i was the first one to point it out in this thread.
  • by alanw (1822) * <alan@wylie.me.uk> on Sunday February 06, 2005 @09:09AM (#11589091) Homepage
    The only reason that the report was released was that New Scientist [newscientist.com] Magazine made a request under the UK Freedom of Information Act [dca.gov.uk] that came into effect at the start of this year

    The article can be read here [newscientist.com]

  • by cheekyboy (598084)
    Thats about the typical reason for any failed project.
  • by amichalo (132545) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:29AM (#11589328)
    I have a real issue with people claiming the lack of funding was a root cause of failure.

    Projects fail for inadequate project management, improper planning, a flaw in the design or execution. Spending more money and having more resources makes identifying and correcting these things _easier_ but is not a failure condition for the project.

    Look at the amazing strides people have made with no 'funding' save their own ingenuity and drive. Certainly the British Space Program could have, with the very same financial resources allocated differently, either identified during the design phase that they did not have enough resources to move forward or else designed a successful misssion.

    It's all about the Product Development Life Cycle (Define->Design->Develop->Deploy) and the interrelation of Time-Scope-Resources that allows a project to define two of the three, but the third one is defined by the other two. (If I need scope S completed in time T then I cannot also define budget B)
    • I have a real issue with people claiming the lack of funding was a root cause of failure.

      Maybe we're just arguing semantics, but I think you can certainly say that lack of money was one of the reasons Beagle failed. For example, the air bag system was tested once ... and failed. The design was modified, but they didn't have enough money to do a second test.

    • by Sinus0idal (546109) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @12:27PM (#11589990)
      Yes, but the problem arised, that Prof Pillenger (the lead scientist) was spending his time lobbying around and travelling to major institutions begging for money for the entire project, instead of being able to put his time and expertise into perfecting the design.. the project was underfunded from the outset, but it shouldn't have been the person responsible for the design and testing that had to do all the financial work too... but thats what happens when you love a project and don't want to see it fail..
      • Colin is Chief Scientist; He isn't Chief Engineer, he didn't design Beagle 2. It was designed by professional spacecraft Engineers at EADS Astrium in collaboration with worldwide industrial and academic partners. This is completely normal for European space projects. Do I think Colin was distracted by his fund raising and scientific work? Absolutely not. Colin entrusted oversight of the development and operations to Dr Mark Sims (University of Leicester) for this very reason. The lack of appropriate fundi
    • To develop complex systems, there is no substitute for having adequate resources. When you are forced to do things on the cheap, you will inevitably end up cutting corners.
      • What a circular argument that leaves no room for disagreement because it is a fact, not an opinion.

        Of course when you are forced to do things "on the cheap" you will "end up cutting corners". Who disagrees with that?

        What I _do_ disagree with is that lack of funding is a reason to fail. Lack of funding, as you pointed out, is a reason to do things efficiently. But with few resources, the program still could have allocated them in a way such as to know in the design and planning stage that the project was n
  • Blackwash (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Toby The Economist (811138) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:55AM (#11589415)
    Beagle 2 was done by the UK educational establishment.

    The ESA - European Space Agency - are supposed to be like NASA, in charge of all EU space activity.

    The ESA, who were sidelined by Beagle 2, have been asked to produce the report into why Beagle 2 failed.

    To my total lack of astonishment, the report argues that all EU space activity must take place under the auspicies of the ESA, and it was wrong to do otherwise.

    It's as if Spaceship One failed, and NASA - who's very existance is essentially threatened by private space travel - was asked to produce the report on the failure.

    This report is questionable purely due to the conflict of interest on the part of the ESA.

    --
    Toby
    • I too was disappointed by the results of the report. A little surprised too. There were quite a few people criticising NASA for the cost of the MER's compared to the Beagle. Now the criticism has been turned around.

      The politics of this bug me slightly less than the total lack of real insight. It sounds like the report can be summarized as, "The mission failed because we didn't spend enough money on it." Only a government entity could truly believe that money is the solution to a problem. I would be much
    • I don't think the report argues for this at all, it merely says that the overall managerial strength has to rise in proportion to the overall complexity of the thing you are building.

      I would not say that Beagle2 management was incompent, just did not have time or money soon enough to do things as they should have been done or how they would have wanted to do them.

  • While the report does not name a single cause for the failure, it does name several problems including the lack of funding, lack of margin in the design, and treating Beagle 2 as a scientific instrument rather than as a spacecraft

    Did anyone else read this as the "it's not our fault!! They didn't give us enough money and were mean to us!" defense?
  • by Citizen of Earth (569446) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @12:47PM (#11590130)
    1) The team conducting this study strongly recommends that the members of this team receive substantially more funding in the future.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @04:44PM (#11591748)
    They probably were on the bad side of the odds. Mars is tough on probes. Even the US had two failures in its last five Mars mission.

    I hope they try again. ESA Huygens was sucessful. And there are some lunar probes on the way.

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