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Space Science Technology

Beagle 2 Failure Theories 254

Dan East writes "New Scientist has an article discussing the failure of ESA's Beagle 2 Lander. Theories as to why the landing failed include thinner than expected upper atmosphere, extreme atmospheric temperature fluctuations, and possible physical damage to Beagle 2 seen in an image acquired immediately after it separated from Mars Express. Recent data acquired by Mars Express, as well as NASA's Mars Rovers, are helping direct investigations into the failure. So far only around half of Beagle 2's landing ellipse has been imaged in an attempt to locate remnants of the lander. USA Today is also running an AP story on these latest theories."
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Beagle 2 Failure Theories

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  • Unrelated Question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bryan Ischo ( 893 ) * on Monday March 08, 2004 @10:39PM (#8506146) Homepage
    My friends and I went to the NASA Ames Research Center Mars museum at Moffett Field yesterday and it was pretty cool, in a museum-for-kids kind of way. But there was one fact on display that I simply could not understand, and that the curator on duty could not help me with. I told my friend that I would ask Slashdot, where someone was sure to know, and was only joking, but now that this story has been posted (and although it's only loosely related), what the heck ...

    The description of the rover module that is going to be deployed on one of the upcoming Mars missions states that it is designed to last for 3 months or until its solar panels become covered in Mars dust and it can no longer get the solar power that it needs. The question is, if they are going to send up a multi-multi-million dollar craft, why not put some simple wipers on the solar panels so that they can wipe off the dust and get some more use out of the thing?

    The curator said that "five hundred people" before me had asked the same question, and that he had never been able to figure out the answer. And of course there MUST be a good reason for this; my closest guess is that the robot wouldn't last for more than 3 months anyway and so they don't bother to include the extra expense and complexity of a motorized wiper system just to keep its solar panels clean for longer than it is expected to live. But there must be a better reason than that, no?
    • by flewp ( 458359 )
      There is probably more than one answer/reason.

      The first thing that springs to mind is that any kind of wiper wiping dust across could scratch the panels

      Wipers are also one more (well, more than one) mechanical part to go wrong, and also add weight.

      Perhaps radiation, and other things would limit the life of the rover to just over 3 months and the wipers were deemed unnecessary. Basically what you're saying in the last paragraph.

      The most likely scenario is that the scientists and engineers, w
      • Dust those badboys! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Mulletproof ( 513805 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @09:03AM (#8509132) Homepage Journal
        The first thing that springs to mind is that any kind of wiper wiping dust across could scratch the panels

        And that was the first thing I thought of too, but then a simple rational hit me-- if you're going to end up writing off your multi-million dollar probe due to dust buildup anyway, you might as well scratch some solar panels and extend that life. Wait till it gets bad, dust, bad, dust... At that points there's no reason NOT to do it.

        Weight is a legitimate issue, but then, how much could a wiper wiper assembly possibly weigh? Of course, everything had to be built to withstand the rigors of reentry, so who knows.
    • by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @12:58AM (#8507154) Journal
      They were relying on the rain to wash the dust off. Oh.. whoops... I mean, we used feet instead of meters.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:01AM (#8507185)
      Ok, this questions is *always* a popular one when talking about rovers on mars, and the solar panels that tag along with them. The reason that the panels can't use wipers to wipe the dust of is because the dust is electrostatically charged. Using the wipers would scratch the hell out of the panels, making them usually for gathering any more photons.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Using the wipers would scratch the hell out of the panels...

        Well then, make sure you keep your washer fluid topped off.
      • by John Courtland ( 585609 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @04:23AM (#8507996)
        Now I'm no EE or Physics major, but couldn't they do some fancy trick where the rover statically charges the surface particles on the panels one way (arbitrarily, we can say negative, so the panel would have a positive charge) then reverse polarity (from positive to negative) to repel them right off?
        • by pe1rxq ( 141710 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @04:38AM (#8508033) Homepage Journal
          'reversing the polarity' usually only works in Star Trek :)

          The problem with such measures is that you will need some kind of special coating on top of the panels (either anti-static, or conducting to hold the charge) and that is going to result in less efficient panels.

          • 'reversing the polarity' usually only works in Star Trek :)

            During the late 1960s/early 1970s, when Jon Pertwee was in the title role, most technical problems on Doctor Who were solved by reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. Peter David and Bill Mumy deliberately wrote a similar gag into their show Space Cases in 1997. And anyone who's seen the stage musical Return to the Forbidden Planet knows that you absolutely, positively, never reverse the polarity of the klystron generator!

            Parent h
    • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:02AM (#8507189)
      It's not that easy to dust with a windshield wiper. We're talking about mostly dirt here, not water.

      So, while it seems simple to just brush it off, they'd need something more complex than a simple windshield wiper... and a moist cloth is just too tall an order for Mars :)
      • by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:04AM (#8507204) Journal
        Use one of those static clinging feather dusters then? Seriously, just have a spinning one like a automatic car wash uses... whould that now work eh?
      • Rip off strips? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Chuck Chunder ( 21021 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:35AM (#8507393) Homepage Journal
        Similar to what grand prix drivers have on their visors? If an existing appendage on the rover could hook up with a tag and pull such a layer of film off a panel then that could double the solar panels lifetime with little extra weight or complexity?
        • Re:Rip off strips? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Gogo Dodo ( 129808 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @02:00AM (#8507522)
          If an existing appendage on the rover...

          That would add a lot of complexity. Right now, the arm on the two rovers and Pathfinder only had to really move from level to down to the surface. You would have to make the arm reach up and over the rover.

          Additionally, the arm would have to be longer to reach the tag and pull the tear-off the full length of the panels.

          For example's sake, stand up straight, take your arm and imagine pulling a tear-off from the top of your head, along your back, to your feet while remaining standing straight (no bending the knees). Watch the motion of your arm and it's a pretty complex motion. Not to mention, your arm's reach will stop somewhere around your knees.

        • Re:Rip off strips? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by paganizer ( 566360 ) <thegrove1@nOSPAM.hotmail.com> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @02:03AM (#8507533) Homepage Journal
          Thats so obvious I bet nobody thought of it.
          Fantastic idea, though.
          The mechanism for pulling the strip off would be sort of a pain, but considering that you are talking very minimal force, you can probably set up a bi-metalcoil wench, a couple of gears, a pully, a pully guide, and some thin wire.
          as soon as the solar collectors fall below a certain point of efficiency, the coil would be mechanically engaged (simple), and every day/night cycle it would advance a tooth on the gear, slooooowly pulling the protective strip off. when power gets to peak, it would automatically dis-engage, allowing for bad weather effects, and prolonging the life of the collector by leaving a percentage of it protected.
          Damn. they would probably screw up and try to make it digital.

          • but considering that you are talking very minimal force, you can probably set up a bi-metalcoil wench,

            Hey bub, keep your sick fetishes to yerself. This here's a family site!

            Sorry, couldn't resist!

        • Any additional layers on top of the solor panels would drastically affect their effeciency meaning less power for the rover. Any film is going to reflect and absorb sunlight that would have gone into the solar cell. I'm sure that they have looked into many different technologies and they are doing the best they can. Its very easy to play armchair engineer and critize from the sidelines, but simply proposing an idea that seems simple can often be difficult to actually implament.
        • Too complex. Just use a continuous strip of plastic thats on rollers that gets rotated periodically. As it rotates, pass it through an ionizer to magnetically lift the dust from the plastic, making it ready for the next use.
      • Man, the Swifter(TM) could make a killing working with NASA. Who would have known? ;)
      • if you build them they will come

        (they being the windscreen washer people)
    • by jmv ( 93421 )
      I don't know the real answers, but here are a few guesses:
      1) wipers == one extra thing that will break
      2) not worth it (as you mentioned)
      3) The dust sticks on the panels (most likely)
    • by aluminum_geek ( 756252 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:04AM (#8507207)
      It appears that dust covering the solar panels is only one of a number of factors which will end up rendering the mars rover a paperweight.
      The dust on the solar panels appears to be complicated by the fact that the batteries "lose capactity" and (probably most importantly) the sun moves past the latitude where the rover is located. Just like days get shorter in the winter...

      I guess it doesn't matter if your solar panels are clean if they aren't being exposed to the sun for an appreciable length of time.

      All of this was grossly overinterpreted from an article lean on details... http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/tl_surface. html [nasa.gov]
    • This was discussed [slashdot.org] the last time there was an article about the (NASA) rovers. There were a lot of suggestions and even more reasons why they weren't very good solutions

      The curator said that "five hundred people" before me had asked the same question

      I'm hoping the next rover (or the next one to built) will sport some elegant new hack suggested by some Jane Average.

      • I'm hoping the next rover (or the next one to built) will sport some elegant new hack suggested by some Jane Average.

        The next planned Mars rover is the Mars Science Laboratory [space.com] to be launched in 2009. It will be five times larger than the current rovers and will be powered by a plutonium RTG, giving it at least a year, probably more, of operation. Check out the link for details on its proposed landing method. Very cool.

    • by York the Mysterious ( 556824 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:09AM (#8507244) Homepage
      NASA addressed this during the launch. They tried a lot of different methods of wiping the solar panels and found out it just wasn't cost effective to make something that would work. It added a ton of bulk and was prone to breakage. Hope that helps.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      This question was asked and answered at one of the NASA briefings.

      Essentially, the dust that is landing on the solar panels is so fine, that it is believed to embed itself in the panel. So a simple swiffering of the panel isn't going to clear it.

      Additionally, adding a wiper system would take up more volume and mass. From what i've heard, the rover was pretty packed in its cocoon.

      From a practicality standpoint, there are probably other systems on the rover that will only last for a short time. Certainl
    • by Molina the Bofh ( 99621 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:14AM (#8507274) Homepage
      They did think about it. But it wouldn't be practical, or worth it.

      It's actually a FAQ.

      I suggest you read
      This [discovery.com]
      and this [sorrab.com]
    • I wondered about putting something like a single layer of Saran wrap (plastic wrap) over the panels, tied to a spool on a motor. After the panels reached a certain diminished capacity, you'd peel this single layer off, giving you another several months of operation. Obviously you'd using something tougher than actual Saran wrap brand plastic.

      And it's likely that the plastic might in itself diminish the panel capacity by a couple of percent because of the opacity. But still, I'd think someone would be

    • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:28AM (#8507350)
      A wiper on the panels is like a spare wheel for a car with a bad transmission.

      The dust will settle on the panels in x amount of time, but by then the batteries won't be able to recharge and there will be other mechanical problems.

      I find these memes a little interesting. There's always something the 'eggheads forgot' according to the common man and its easy to believe. A related meme is how Einstein was a terrible math student when he was young. In reality, he did fine in math when he was young. I guess believing in this kind of stuff makes you feel better knowing that you're "better" than "smart people" and that life is very simple and requires simple solutions.

      Then again, the conversion error from metric to imperial that caused another mars bound space-probe to fail fuels this fire, but is very much an exception and not the rule.
      • It's said that Einstein got a "C" in math once.
        Of course, I'd be willing to believe that a Jewish kid getting a "C" in a class that he should have been excellent in might have more to do with an anti-semetic teacher than young Albert's skill, but that's just speculation on my part.

        I don't think that the purpose of this particular meme is to feel better than Einsten. It's about not taking criticism and failure too personally. 'Just because you failed, don't give up hope. Some of the most successful people i
    • I'd guess that really wiping dust off would scratch the panels, maybe only a little, but enough that it's better to just let the single grains accumulate instead of long scratches. But you'd think if Lens Crafters can make scratch-resistant plastic NASA could too...

      Ok, I looked up how Pathfinder died, and it looks like the lifespan on the rover there was dictated by how many day/night temperature changes the electronics could take. I'm guessing that they just can't get a circuit board to put up with that
    • by kingnathan ( 760470 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @02:09AM (#8507554)
      The answer is that "designed to last for 3 months or until its solar panels become covered in Mars dust..." is inaccurate. Dust is one of the limiting factors to the Spirit and Opportunity's lifespans, but it is not the only one. The electronics and batteries have a restricted lifespan due to the significant temperature changes that occur from day to night. Imagine putting a solar powered calculator in the oven and then the feezer over and over again. The rovers were designed to last at least 90 days and dust will not be a significantly limiting factor during those 90 days. If the electronics and batteries last significantly longer than 90 days, then dust may start to become a larger problem. Assuming the electronics/batteries last indefinately, the dust will eventually kill the Rovers. When NASA launches a rover designed to have a significantly longer lifespan, you can bet that solar panel cleaners will be part of the design.
    • What if they included some sort of fan to blow the dust off? This would be incredibly simple to add onto a rover and would definately not scratch the panels. How about it?
  • by quinkin ( 601839 )
    We fucked up...


  • ...that this organization does not tolerate
    <nibbles pinky nail in pseudo-fascist solute>
  • Bunny Thing (Score:4, Funny)

    by pyrrhonist ( 701154 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @12:59AM (#8507170)
    It was the Bunny Thing [nasa.gov]. Opportunity's next. Oh no!
  • by Roger Keith Barrett ( 712843 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:00AM (#8507173)
    Snoopy's [libero.it] Sopwith Camel [aviation-history.com] doesn't look like it is set up well enough to survive re-entry.
  • by Ironclad2 ( 697456 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:00AM (#8507175)
    ...it wasn't promised a treat or its favourite chew toy at the end of the mission.
  • uhh (Score:2, Interesting)

    by greentree ( 682982 )
    what about possible sightings of the remains of the probe. i came across this story [cnn.com] on cnn.
  • by ArmorFiend ( 151674 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:03AM (#8507195) Homepage Journal
    Houston, we have a problem: they stole our dog and replaced it with a stupid white frisbee.
  • Conversions... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PeaceTank ( 758859 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:06AM (#8507222)
    The most likely candidate as an explaination of failure is simply human error. There are rarely errors in electronics that are not caused by humans that could cause such a massive loss. Usually, errors in hardware do not exist, as the hardware is top of the line and checked and re-checked for defects. (Granted, however, that sometimes faulty hardware may slip through the cracks) It is most likely something simpler than "it landed in a crater full of quicksand and sank." However entertaining it may be to picture a multi-million dollar rover sinking into the martian soil, it simply is impossible. To create quicksand one needs water. Even though the Spirit and Opportunity rovers found evidence of water on Mars, it was a long time ago, not today, that Mars was wet. So that simply is not feasible. Space debris, while a popular theory, is so unlikely (the chances of a meteor hitting something in the middle of space are *chuckle* ASTRONOMICAL) So this leaves us with simple human error. Something as simple as a single line of code can destroy an entire project (programmers know what I'm talking about). If you will remember, a few years back NASA lost a multi-million dollar spacecraft because of an error converting from the English system to the Metric system, so it is usually something tiny like that. If you asked me, it's most likely that someone typed an extra "0" somewhere in the code for orbital data and/or surface descent for the capsule. Even though it is just one "0", over that long of a distance it would make a huge difference. Remember that each decimal place is a factor of 10! Telling a spacecraft to orbit at "100,000" miles above the surface is a whole lot different than telling the spacecraft to orbit at "1,000,000" miles above the surface. Such an error would just send the poor Beagle 2 hurtling into the vast reaches of space or crashing to the surface. So it is most likely something like this that has caused all the trouble with the Beagle 2 and given those poor Brits such a hard time.
    • Re:Conversions... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Ateryx ( 682778 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:33AM (#8507386)
      A factor of +/- 10 could be completely possible, however what about other more simple errors? I don't know much about what numbers go into blasting some metal from Earth, but logically what would happen if any of the assortment of numbers was even 1% off? Even with recalculations, who hasn't incorrectly answered an "easy" math problem on a test to realize they made a stupid mistake even after going through the problem a second time before turning in the test?

      Lets say (using the parents example) the radius of Mars was incorrectly entered (from our less accurate 1988 data vs. our more exact 2001 data) with an error of 1%, so instead of 3375km for polar radius, we have 3341km. This error is furthered in say Newtons Law of Gravity, because the radius is squared, giving a 2% error in just the denomenator of the equation. Obviously there are some margins to counter this, but Distance to Mars, Radius of Mars, Mass of Mars, all equal to many sig figs.

      If you're interested in more Mars/Earth info I found this NASA data [nasa.gov] in my googling.

    • Re:Conversions... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:39AM (#8507413) Homepage
      So this leaves us with simple human error. Something as simple as a single line of code can destroy an entire project (programmers know what I'm talking about).

      It could have even been some sort of physical hardware error. My father used to work for Hughes Aircraft Co. on the AIM-54 Phoenix missile program. The Navy required them to second-source some parts for the missile and named Raytheon as the source. Raytheon was (and still is) known for numerous incidents of stunning ineptitude, and this case was no exception. One of the parts was an arc-shaped metal lever with gear teeth along its edge that acted as a safety for the missile rocket motor to make sure it wouldn't fire until it dropped free from the F-14 firing it. An electric motor would spin a gear meshed with the teeth and, when it got to the end of the arc, the lever would spring free from the gear and ignite the rocket motor. Some Raytheon engineer apparently couldn't read a mechanical drawing and put one too many gear teeth on the arc. When the motor spun the requisite number of times, it would stop with the last tooth of the Raytheon made safety lever still engaged and the rocket motor wouldn't ignite. They only found the problem months later during a live-fire test at China Lake, CA, when an F-14 was firing at an F-86 drone. The missile dropped like a half-million dollar glide bomb. They were pretty pissed at Raytheon over that one. So you never know what's going to monkey-wrench things. Bad metric:standard conversions, one too many gear teeth, a bad diode that worked only long enough to escape detection; There are so many things that can go wrong.

    • Re:Conversions... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by addaon ( 41825 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {todhsals+noadda}> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:45AM (#8507452)
      Hardware in space is NOT the same as hardware inside a box on your desk. Ignoring nasty things like radiation flipping bits (we can reduce that to negligable), you have beautiful stuff like heat stress on structural parts, vibrations at both launch and atmospheric entry, and, of course, an inevitable collision with a big, hard planet. Hardware fails. Perhaps this is a subcase of "human error" (the humans, after all, chose what hardware to send), but in that case there's no such thing as something that's not human error.
    • Re:Conversions... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cyclone1996 ( 666679 )
      Well, I think the most likely candidate is not anything *simple* at all (although human error may certainly be involved). Most catastrophic spacecraft failures (and other engineering failures, for that matter) typically result from a couple of things going wrong in a complex, yet interconnected, way - often referred to as "the failure chain".

      In the case of a simple flight software error, not only would the boneheaded engineer that wrote the code have screwed up, but also the organization that is suppos

    • a multi-million dollar rover sinking into the martian soil, it simply is impossible. To create quicksand one needs water. Even though the Spirit and Opportunity rovers found evidence of water on Mars, it was a long time ago, not today, that Mars was wet. So that simply is not feasible

      More to the point, any water on Mars today is frozen solid. Hence, quicksand there cannot be.

    • Re:Conversions... (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      > an error converting from the English system to the Metric system

      A small point, but you mean the Imperial system (which was used by the US). England uses the Metric system for almost everything. (Transport law is still mostly in miles-per-hour though)
    • Re:Conversions... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mikerich ( 120257 )
      Such an error would just send the poor Beagle 2 hurtling into the vast reaches of space or crashing to the surface. So it is most likely something like this that has caused all the trouble with the Beagle 2 and given those poor Brits such a hard time.

      Beagle 2 was released from Mars Express whilst the probe was on a ballistic trajectory and before Mars Express went into orbit (indeed if it hadn't ejected Beagle 2, Mars Express would have been unable to enter orbit).

      We know where Mars Express was, we kn

  • for want of... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sssmashy ( 612587 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:22AM (#8507318)

    "It may be nothing, it may be everything" said Sims. The object could be one of the explosive bolts used to secure the probe to its host during take-off. More worryingly, it could be something that broke off Beagle 2, or a wrinkle in the insulation wrapping the probe.

    • The Shoe was lost for want of a Nail;
    • The Horse was lost for want of a Shoe;
    • The Rider was lost for want of a Horse;
    • The Battle was lost for want of a Rider;
    • The Challenger was lost for want of an O-ring;
    • The Columbia was lost for want of a Ceramic Tile;
    • The Beagle was lost (probably) for want of Undamaged Insulation;

    And on and on it goes. Kingdoms and spacecraft get lost on a dime, these days.

  • Poodle Two? (Score:3, Funny)

    by photonX ( 743718 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:29AM (#8507361)
    I just figured it had run off with a poodle, until I learned that there are no poodles on Mars. Then I though it landed in a puddle, until I was told there are no puddles on Mars. I guess that rules out a poodle puddle too.

    Sometimes dogs just run off for no reason.

  • by jelle ( 14827 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:30AM (#8507368) Homepage
    CNN [cnn.com] has the scoop.
    • Both the CNN article you referenced, as well as the articles in the story, state that the "string of pearls" is probably not the rover, and was most likely caused by cosmic radiation interfering with the camera.

      Dubbed the "string of pearls", this could be the lander, perhaps entangled in its parachute. But it is more likely that the "pearls" were produced by noise in the camera, perhaps caused by cosmic rays.

      Dan East
  • by VivianC ( 206472 ) <internet_update&yahoo,com> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:31AM (#8507370) Homepage Journal
    Thanks for the link to the "damage" photo. It makes it all so clear. It's my own fault for reading the articles...
  • i didnt see them mention the possibility that the thing may have just been poorly engineered, like NASA's Mars Polar Lander and the DS2 probes.
  • There was no beagle. They were go to fake it in the desert but then they had union problems.
  • Obvious (Score:2, Funny)

    by dedazo ( 737510 )
    The thing tried to enter the Martian atmosphere on the wrong side of the orbital plane. It probably collided with some old American piece of hardware gliding on the left side of the orbit. Pesky brits.
  • by way2trivial ( 601132 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:55AM (#8507491) Homepage Journal
    from nasa's own website [nasa.gov]

    NASA's Viking Mission to Mars was composed of two spacecraft, Viking 1 and Viking 2, each consisting of an orbiter and a lander. The primary mission objectives were to obtain high resolution images of the Martian surface, characterize the structure and composition of the atmosphere and surface, and search for evidence of life.
    how does that mean they had no idea the air was so thin?

    • RTFA. The point is that this data is inaccurate, because the atmosphere shows hitherto-unkown extreme fluctuations of pressure and temperature. It was not a problem for the NASA landers which decelerated on rockets, but it could have been a problem for Beagle since it relied on parachutes to turn a fall into a landing.
      • by way2trivial ( 601132 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @02:28AM (#8507620) Homepage Journal
        Well let's see, the link I gave says (from viking)

        Surface pressure: 6.36 mb at mean radius (variable from 4.0 to 8.7 mb depending on season)
        [6.9 mb to 9 mb (Viking 1 Lander site)]
        Surface density: ~0.020 kg/m3
        Scale height: 11.1 km
        Total mass of atmosphere: ~2.5 x 1016 kg
        Average temperature: ~210 K (-63 C)
        Diurnal temperature range: 184 K to 242 K (-89 to -31 C) (Viking 1 Lander site)
        Wind speeds: 2-7 m/s (summer), 5-10 m/s (fall), 17-30 m/s (dust storm) (Viking Lander sites)
        Mean molecular weight: 43.34 g/mole
        Atmospheric composition (by volume):
        Major : Carbon Dioxide (CO2) - 95.32% ; Nitrogen (N2) - 2.7%
        Argon (Ar) - 1.6%; Oxygen (O2) - 0.13%; Carbon Monoxide (CO) - 0.08%
        Minor (ppm): Water (H2O) - 210; Nitrogen Oxide (NO) - 100; Neon (Ne) - 2.5;
        Hydrogen-Deuterium-Oxygen (HDO) - 0.85; Krypton (Kr) - 0.3;
        Xenon (Xe) - 0.08

        now- from pathfinder [nasa.gov] Meteorology
        It was mid-summer in the northern hemisphere of Mars when Pathfinder landed. The Pathfinder Lander is at 19.33 N, 33.55 W. The Viking 1 Lander touched down at 22 N, 50 W, 2 km below datum elevation on 20 July 1976, and is used for many of the comparisons below.
        The pressures measured over the first three days average about 6.75 mb, 10% to 20% smaller than those recorded by the Viking 1 Lander during the same season 21 years ago (note that this result is consistent with the elevation difference of about 100 meters between the Mars Pathfinder and Viking 1 landing sites). The pressure showed a slight decline over the first few weeks but is now starting to rise slowly. This rise should continue through December, 1997. The pressure rise is concurrent with the slow shrinking of the southern polar cap, now at its maximum extent, as the southern winter ends.

        Temperatures measured from the top of the 1 meter mast on Mars Pathfinder varied from daily highs of about 260 K (+8 F) to lows of 196 K (-107 F). This is about 10 K degrees (18 F degrees) warmer than Viking 1 Lander measurements made at 1.6 meters. The sol-to-sol temperatures have been very repeatable over the first 30 sols, and should continue until about 60 sols after landing, after which they will start to show more variation.

        Preliminary wind speed estimates give late evening and early morning prevailing winds from the SSE, which shifted in the early afternoon to be from the N to NE. This is very similar to what Viking 1 found at this time of year. During the day, winds were light at only a few km or miles per hour. At night the wind speed increased to about 10 to 20 mph (16 - 32 kph) from the south.

        The repeatable weather patterns of northern summer found by Viking 1 have been verified by Pathfinder so far. These include diurnal (day-night) pressure changes and semi-diurnal changes by as much as 4.5% due to atmospheric thermal tides.

        Interruptions in the normal pattern of temperature drops observed on a few nights may indicate water in the atmosphere is condensing as fog. Humidity measurements are planned later in the mission.

        On sol 25, temperature sampling was done at 4-second intervals for the whole day. Temperature fluctuations by 15 to 20 K (30 to 40 degrees F) were observed over minutes or seconds at some periods, suggesting turbulent boundary-layer mixing between the warmer near-surface region and cooler layers above that. A "dust devil" was also detected passing by the lander on sol 25, and later high resolution sampling has detected more dust devil signatures.

        More detailed information and historical weather reports are available at the Mars Pathfinder project weather page. Raw and reduced data are available online at http://atmos.nmsu.edu/PDS/data/mpam_0001/aareadme. htm

        Pathfinder used a parachute... didn't anyon notice how hard it hit? the fact that pressure and temperatures change so mu

    • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @07:01AM (#8508465) Journal
      We can't accurately predict the atmosphere (weather) here on earth, even with dozens of satellites, hundreds of radar stations, and thousands of automated stations that monitor localized atmospheric conditions. How do you expect ESA to predict the weather on Beagle 2's landing day using 20 year old data?

      If you'll remember, NASA adjusted the Rover's landing parameters immediately before landing, forcing the parachute to deploy sooner to compensate for lower atmospheric density. That very well may have saved the mission, because the chute still deployed at a lower altitude than expected.

      Either Beagle 2's landing sequence was such that it could not be tweaked en route, or ESA overlooked the opportunity to make such an adjustment.

      A final note. Many have suggested that spacecraft, such as the Mars Rovers, use nuclear power instead of solar power to vastly increase their operational lives. One of the main excuses I've seen to NOT use such power (besides the lobbying of tree-huggers) is to purposefully limit the mission lifetime, so resources can quickly be shifted to new science. However the 3 recent landings (Rovers and Beagle 2) have shown we do need to keep track of the weather on Mars a bit closer. If the rovers had a nuclear power source then once they broke down (as in not able to drive around or operate the arm), they could become fixed position weather stations. The data provided could aid in adjusting future landings, which could potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars.

      Dan East
      • If you'll remember, NASA adjusted the Rover's landing parameters immediately before landing, forcing the parachute to deploy sooner to compensate for lower atmospheric density. That very well may have saved the mission, because the chute still deployed at a lower altitude than expected.

        IIRC they tweaked the programming on the second lander following Spirit's descent to the surface and analysing its data. This was the first indication that the pressure was lower than expected.

        Either Beagle 2's landing

    • how does that mean they had no idea the air was so thin?

      As Mars Express closed in on the planet, astronomers noticed a large dust storm building on the planet. Martian storms are unusual in that they markedly heat the atmosphere. As dust particles are swept up into the air, they absorb solar radiation and radiate heat - warming the atmosphere, increasing the force of the wind and so raising more dust. As the air warms, it expands and pressure drops.

      All three landers were committed to landing on Mars

  • by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @02:09AM (#8507557)
    http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/space/03/08/mars.beag le.reut/index.html
    Possible sighting of Beagle probe

    Monday, March 8, 2004 Posted: 6:43 PM EST (2343 GMT)

    LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Beagle 2, the British space probe which disappeared as it descended towards Mars, may have been spotted on the surface of the Red Planet, scientists say.

    No signal has been received from the craft since it was due to land on Christmas Day last year, despite various attempts by Mars orbiters and telescopes on Earth to make contact.

    But photographic images of the area where Beagle 2 was to have come down show four bright spots, dubbed a "string of pearls" by scientists, which may be the remains of the probe.

    "It could be the lander with its air bags and parachute," said Lutz Richter from the German Aerospace Center, who helped plan the Beagle 2 project as part of Europe's first solo mission to another planet.
  • Other ideas besides a wiper:
    - A blower. Puffing air to get rid of the dust.
    - Tip the panel to dump the dust off.
    - Like the blower, but instead move the panels through the air. (depends on how thin the air is.)
    - Solve the problem at the root cause - prevent the buildup in the first place by using some areodynamics - shape a shield that will make air carrying the dust blow around the panels and not touch them.
    - Cover the panel with a see-through plastic sheet on a roller that will roll around to bring some n
  • According to CNN (Score:3, Informative)

    by Snuffub ( 173401 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @02:18AM (#8507580) Homepage
  • The real answer is that some greenneck taking potshots with his beebee lasergot a bit lucky. ESA should have known that dogs are considered to be varmits in the Martian backwoods.

    Time for my medication ...

  • by Qrlx ( 258924 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @03:17AM (#8507819) Homepage Journal
    In order for NASA to understand the presentation, the ESA had to convert it to PowerPoint format.
  • Splash... (Score:2, Funny)

    by CikaVelja ( 590294 )
    Hit the water on Mars first...
  • by writertype ( 541679 ) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @04:18AM (#8507982)
    It was designed by the French. It simply gave up and quit.

    It was designed by the English. The re-entry engineers got right pissed at the pub and started a drunken brawl with the aeronautics lads, who calculated that delta V makes a lot more sense with a beer bottle in the midst of it.

    It was designed by the Irish, who gave up calculus for Lent.

    It was designed by the Germans. Beagle was properly engineered, but poorly manufactured by the Belgians, who nobody really knows anything about anyway.

    It was designed by the Spanish. It's not a communications failure, just a long siesta. Relax.

    It was designed by the Polish. 'Nuff said.

  • As I mentioned [slashdot.org] in December. Is it a possibility that Beagle-2 croaked during the Solar Flare event which happened during the journey? Serious question not answered earlier.

    How about the Open University opening the software so that many eyes can see if we can find any bugs?

    • Is it a possibility that Beagle-2 croaked during the Solar Flare event which happened during the journey? Serious question not answered earlier.

      Mars Express reported all systems okay in the late November 2003 pre-release check, but I couldn't tell you how many of Beagle 2's systems were given a check-up at that point.

      How about the Open University opening the software so that many eyes can see if we can find any bugs?

      The descent software was written by Astrium. I'm sure they are just as keen as any

  • Last night, the Royal Society [royalsoc.ac.uk] webcast an interview with Pillinger. It's due to be available [royalsoc.ac.uk] on demand soon. In answer to the many points about 'reinventing the wheel', it's claimed (about 3/4 the way in) that ESA weren't allowed access to Nasa airbag technology.
  • I seem to recall it was eaten by a mutant space goat... or was it used as ball in a game of galactic ultra-cricket?
  • My 2c (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt AT nerdflat DOT com> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @10:13AM (#8509859) Journal
    I'm quite convinced that the only real error made by the Beagle2 team was thinking that a plan involving dropping a dead weight from an astronomical height would actually work in that equipped with nothing more than the gyroscope effect and a parachute, it would actually land where and how they might predict.

    In particular, the Beagle2 was released by Mars Express a heckuva long way from the planet. Even the _slightest_ deviance from the carefully calculated course at that distance could result in the Beagle missing the planet completely, to say nothing of missing the target area. When Mars Express entered Martian orbit, they announced that although it was working perfectly, it was in a slightly different orbit than what they had expected. This only furthers the premise that the Beagle2 may have been slightly off course as well. And unlike the Mars Express, the Beagle2 had no navigational equipment to help it correct any errors that could have been otherwise noticed as it drew closer to the planet.

    I think that the Beagle2 would have been a brilliant success if they had been willing to spend a little more and at least equip the Beagle with it's own basic navigational equipment and propulsion. Not a lot, mind you.. just enough fuel to make minor navigation adjustments that could very well turn out to be necessary after separation, as well as maybe helping to slow the Beagle down when it got close enough.

  • by LaCosaNostradamus ( 630659 ) <LaCosaNostradamus@ m a i l.com> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @11:01AM (#8510257) Journal
    Two Martians are sunning themselves on a dune when a crack is heard from the sky, and then the probe hurtles down to crash nearby in the dust. All is still for a second or two, leaving the Martians to muse. Then, several explosive bolts go off and the landing cushions attempt to inflate.

    One Martian looks at the other, rolls his 3 eyes, and says "Well, that proves it. There's no intelligent life on Earth."

I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best. -- Oscar Wilde