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Beagle 2 Failure Theories

timothy posted more than 10 years ago | from the best-laid-plans dept.

Space 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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Unrelated Question (5, Interesting)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 10 years ago | (#8506146)

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?

Re:Unrelated Question (1)

Happy Cramper (659401) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507139)

Forget motorized wipers, way too heavy and bulky. Use muscle wire instead.

Re:Unrelated Question (2, Informative)

flewp (458359) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507151)

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, with much more knowledge and experience in this type of thing know what they're doing and have determined for some reason wipers aren't a possibility. I highly doubt it's something they've overlooked.

Re:Unrelated Question (4, Funny)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507154)

They were relying on the rain to wash the dust off. Oh.. whoops... I mean, we used feet instead of meters.

Re:Unrelated Question (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

-brandon

Re:Unrelated Question (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507219)

Using the wipers would scratch the hell out of the panels...

Well then, make sure you keep your washer fluid topped off.

Re:Unrelated Question (3, Insightful)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 10 years ago | (#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 :)

Re:Unrelated Question (3, Funny)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507204)

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? (4, Interesting)

Chuck Chunder (21021) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507393)

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:Unrelated Question (2, Funny)

Oylpann (715143) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507434)

Man, the Swifter(TM) could make a killing working with NASA. Who would have known? ;)

Re:Unrelated Question (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507191)

The main problem is the dust. Theres so much of it, and it's so fine that using wipers would scratch the panels so much they probably wouldn't even last a year.

Plus, wipers are another part that could go wrong, it adds more weight, uses more power, etc.

What I was thinking is, maybe they can somehow charge the panels, therefore causing the dust particles to be charged.. then quickly reverse the charge causing the particles to launch off the panels.

Re:Unrelated Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507230)

using wipers would scratch the panels so much they probably wouldn't even last a year.

That sounds a tad bit longer that three months!

Re:Unrelated Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507317)

sorry i thought he said 3 years.. so yeah it wont even last a month

Re:Unrelated Question (1, Redundant)

jmv (93421) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507205)

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)

It's not just the dust (5, Informative)

aluminum_geek (756252) | more than 10 years ago | (#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]

Re:It's not just the dust (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507252)

the batteries "lose capactity"

My capacity was once so lose I sat on the crapper most of the day.

Re:Unrelated Question (2, Informative)

subtropolis (748348) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507229)

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.

Re:Unrelated Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507242)

I think it really is human fallibility. We haven't done rovers very often, and prior missions haven't had the potentially extreme-duration profile we now desire. (Plus, the batteries in earlier designs had a tendency to suffer from all the thermal stress.)

Earlier missions were also 'shots in the dark;' we didn't know much, Viking told us more but discouraged us and our politicians by seeming to prove a dry and lifeless world, Odyssey proved we (USA; the Russians had Lunokhod experience) could do a rover at all... ...and now here we are, with the Big mission, the Big findings, and oops, no wipers or other dust-avoidance mechanism.

Which, once again, will give us another excuse to go back, do better, and discover more.

Re:Unrelated Question (4, Informative)

York the Mysterious (556824) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507244)

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.

Yer gonna hate me then.. (0, Redundant)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507417)

here's my lame solution..

cover the panels with multiple layers of clear material, something between a a chunk of mica,and layers of saranwrap-- say, 10 layers, one atop the other- at the far end (out from the body) each layer is attached in the corners like a yoke (y shape from spindle to the corners) to a thread, when the top layer gets dusty, have a small motor reel in the thread- peeling away the top layer (which falls to the wayside) the next thread being under the layer above just removed.. (not flopping around)

all it requires is a motor with a spindle, monofiliment, and the layers of clear material.

And for that matter- (2, Interesting)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507448)

I have one of those 'ionic breeze' suckers sitting under my desk, it traps dust by having a negative charge, which makes dust stick to it.

wouldn't a positive charge on the surface of the panel keep dust away?

Re:And for that matter- (2, Insightful)

Gogo Dodo (129808) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507484)

Unfortunately, it probably wouldn't work so well outside where there is an endless supply of dust. Your desk is a semi-controlled environment where the house/office is eliminating most of the dust from the outside.

You have to wipe those "ionic breeze" things clean after awhile. Now you've got two dirty elements: the solars panels and the thing that's supposed to clean the panels. How do you clean the cleaners?

Also, the suggestion puts more load on the electrical system.

Re:Unrelated Question (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507268)

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. Certainly the daily Martian temperature gradient is wrecking havoc on the batteries and seals. So those will expire at some point. So if the wipers nominally only buy you a day, is it worth it?

Re:Unrelated Question (4, Informative)

Molina the Bofh (99621) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507274)

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]

Re:Unrelated Question (1)

pyrrhonist (701154) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507283)

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.

Yet another example of someone not doing their job right. It usually helps to have an answer for frequently asked questions when giving tours. This makes the tour more enjoyable for, oh I don't know, the people on the tour!

Re:Unrelated Question (1)

jcwren (166164) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507333)

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 willing to trade off a very small daily hit for extended operation.

And hey, if the wrap didn't peel correctly, you're no worse off, right? I mean, the panels were so shot that you couldn't use them, and you're building in a 1 or 2 pound mechanism that quite probably could give you another couple months of operation.

Re:Unrelated Question (1)

photonX (743718) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507440)

Yes, exactly what I thought too. Somethink like those protective plastic static-cling covers that come on the faces of electronic gadgets. I'd also agree that there wouldn't be much of a weight penalty, either.

Maybe our next robots will be equipped with their own little cleaning robots.

the 'eggheads forgot' meme (4, Insightful)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

einstein (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507470)

You saw the report card?

Could it be that it was always an embarassment that his first wife (the non-kosher one), while a gimp, was also a brilliant mathematician and that always led to speculations about his own mathematical prowess?

I mean, whoever heard of re-writing history?

Meme yourself!

I also read once how Al was a great mathematician, so I think the circle is complete.

Re:Unrelated Question (2, Informative)

fenix down (206580) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507351)

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, so everything else only has to last as long as a bit of solder that somebody's popping in and out of a freezer every 12 hours.

Some curator (1)

fuzzy12345 (745891) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507477)

"Five hundred people" ask a question to which someone obviously knows the answer and the curator, being unable to figure it out him/herself, doesn't do the research?

Some curator.

Beagle had lung problems (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8506157)

Too much smoking in laboratories

The reason... (2, Funny)

quinkin (601839) | more than 10 years ago | (#8506170)

We fucked up...

Q.

Top Theory (-1, Troll)

tealover (187148) | more than 10 years ago | (#8506173)

EUians are fucking idiots ?

relax, it's just a joke.

just like your space program.

<rimshot>

Re:Top Theory (-1, Offtopic)

Aardpig (622459) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507183)

relax, it's just a joke. just like your space program.

Proof positive that you don't have to be a cunt to post to slashdot, but it helps.

Racism, not just for indians any more! (-1, Troll)

FartKnox (759313) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507233)

Re: your sig. Have you seen any of FORT KNOX's commetns? there you go.

Dr. Evil would like to remind you... (2, Funny)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 10 years ago | (#8506176)

...that this organization does not tolerate
<nibbles pinky nail in pseudo-fascist solute>
failure...

Re:Dr. Evil would like to remind you... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507216)

We spent one million dollars! *gasp*

My theory.... (1, Funny)

TheBadger (131644) | more than 10 years ago | (#8506180)

..it landed in a large pit of quicksand and sank.

Re:My theory.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507215)

It did get there, but the Martians locked it away in a mental institute because it didn't seem to be able to revert to its normal, martian appearance.

I'm guessing... (1, Insightful)

dynoman7 (188589) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507121)

...gravity had something to do with it.

Re:I'm guessing... (1)

Weird O'Puns (749505) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507264)

No, I think the final blow was given by the surface of Mars. Gravity just helped a little.

Beagle had no chance.

Why Beagle2 FAILED IT (-1)

britneys 9th husband (741556) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507127)

The Jihad beat it out for First Post!

They deserved it (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507133)

fuck with the US again and you will see more of the same.

and while I am at it why is "Manifesto of the Communist Party" under the "GNU Free Documentation License."

fucking commies, get the fuck out of my country and off my internet.

Re:They deserved it (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507145)

hello, comrad.

Oh, well NOW the story shows back up! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507140)

And I STILL think the photo linked representing "dammage" is a joke.

oh no!!!! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507144)

The last SCO artical is getting close to the bottom of the page!
We need another one fast!! Anyone?!?

Re:oh no!!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507159)

Please try to keep posts ontopic. Thanks.

Re:oh no!!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507178)

Please try to keep posts ontopic. Thanks.

This exact comment has already been posted. Try to be more original...

Re:oh no!!!! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507228)

Which one? the parent, or the "keep them on topic" guy? Because I'm the parent and I was being original (didn't copy another post). I like SCO stories, and i'm bored trying to fix shitty written php, so I would like another SCO story.

Re:oh no!!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507297)

I wasn't replying to your post, but the one after it. When I tried to parot the post /. wouldn't let me, and gave the reason in bold that I quoted at the bottom of my post. That made it unique enough to then submit.

Ok now?

Re:oh no!!!! (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507364)

Sure! You're my hero!

it was the name (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507168)

should have named it smeagle 2...

Bunny Thing (4, Funny)

pyrrhonist (701154) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507170)

It was the Bunny Thing [nasa.gov] . Opportunity's next. Oh no!

Re:Bunny Thing (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507256)

Well, that's no ordinary rabbit. That's the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on!

Not that rabbits are actually rodents, mind you, but we can make allowences for medieval knowledge of taxonomy.

My guess is that the furry little fellow belongs to Marvin and is an active member of the Martian Defense League, and they're pretty pissed about letting a couple of invaders get through the shield and took it out on the poor, defenseless little Beagle.

KFG

Re:Bunny Thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507258)

TIM: [mwscomp.com] I warned you, but did you listen to me? Oh, no, you knew it all, didn't you? Oh, it's just a harmless little bunny, isn't it? Well, it's always the same. I always tell them--

Re:Bunny Thing (1)

VivianC (206472) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507353)

Wow! Martian Playboy!

Re:Bunny Thing (1)

Hecilwe (681537) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507420)

It appears to be a Martian wearing a Ryo-Ohki spacesuit.

I think I figured it out... (4, Funny)

Roger Keith Barrett (712843) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507173)

Snoopy's [libero.it] Sopwith Camel [aviation-history.com] doesn't look like it is set up well enough to survive re-entry.

Re:I think I figured it out... (4, Funny)

Quinn_Inuit (760445) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507337)

Curse you, Red Planet!

Beagle Hypothesis #527: (3, Funny)

Ironclad2 (697456) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507175)

...it wasn't promised a treat or its favourite chew toy at the end of the mission.

uhh (2, Interesting)

greentree (682982) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507176)

what about possible sightings of the remains of the probe. i came across this story [cnn.com] on cnn.

*BSD Failure Theories (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507182)

Yet another sickening blow has struck what's left of the *BSD community, as a soon-to-be-released report by the independent Commision for Technology Management (CTM) after a year-long study has concluded: *BSD is already dead. Here are some of the commission's findings:

Fact: the *BSDs have balkanized yet again. There are now no less than twelve separate, competing *BSD projects, each of which has introduced fundamental incompatibilities with the other *BSDs, and frequently with Unix standards. Average number of developers in each project: fewer than five. Average number of users per project: there are no definitive numbers, but reports show that all projects are on the decline.

Fact: DragonflyBSD, yet another offshoot of the beleaguered FreeBSD "project", is already collapsing under the weight of internal power struggles and in-fighting. "They haven't done a single decent release," notes Mark Baron, an industry watcher and columnist. "Their mailing lists read like an online version of a Jerry Springer episode, complete with food fights, swearing, name-calling, and chair-throwing." Netcraft reports that DragonflyBSD is run on exactly 0% of internet servers.

Fact: There are almost no FreeBSD developers left, and its use, according to Netcraft, is down to a sadly crippled .005% of internet servers. A recent attempt at a face-to-face summit in Boulder, Colorado culminated in an out-and-out fistfight between core developers. Hotel security guards broke up the melee and banned the participants from the hotel. Two of the developers were hospitalized.

Fact: NetBSD, which claims to focus on portability (whatever that is supposed to mean), is slow, and cannot take advantage of multiple CPUs. "That about drove the last nail in the coffin for BSD use here," said Michael Curry, CTO of Amazon.com. "We took our NetBSD boxes out to the backyard and shot them in the head. We're much happier running Linux."

Fact: *BSD has no support from the media. Number of Linux magazines available at bookstores: 5 (Linux Journal, Linux World, Linux Developer, Linux Format, Linux User). Number of available *BSD magazines: 0. Current count of Linux-oriented technical books: 1071. Current count of *BSD books: 6.

Fact: XFree86 is dropping support for *BSD. The remaining core group believes that the *BSDs have strayed too far from Unix standards and have become too difficult to support along with Linux and Solaris x86. "It's too much trouble," said one anonymous developer. "If they want to make their own standards, let them doing the porting for us."

Fact: Many user-level applications will no longer work under *BSD, and no one is working to change this. The GIMP, a Photoshop-like application, has not worked at all under *BSD since version 1.1 (sorry, too much trouble for such a small base, developers have said). OpenOffice, a Microsoft Office clone, has never worked under *BSD and never will. ("Why would we bother?" said developer Steven Andrews, an OpenOffice team lead.)

Fact: servers running OpenBSD, which claims to focus on security, are frequently compromised. According to Jim Markham, editor of the online security forum SecurityWatch, the few OpenBSD servers that exist on the internet have become a joke among the hacker community. "They make a game out of it," he says. "(OpenBSD leader) Theo [de Raadt] will scramble to make a new patch to fix one problem, and they've already compromised a bunch of boxes with a different exploit."

With these incontroverible facts staring (what's left of) the *BSD community in the face, they can only draw one conclusion: *BSD is already dead.

Well lets see (-1, Flamebait)

MajorDick (735308) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507184)

Well if the Beagle 2 was designed and built by the French I would say someone sent a signal to it saying the Germans were coming an in an attempt to run away it smacked into the surface.

On the other hand if it was designed and built entirley by the English I would say someone sent a signal to it saying the Germans were coming and it tried to turn back and fight like hell with no chance of winning alone and just couldnt hold out long enough for the US rovers could get there.

Either way I am sure the Germans were part of a Beagle 2 failure

Re:Well lets see (2, Funny)

subtropolis (748348) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507254)

Who modded this major dick funny?

The reason is in the picture... (2, Funny)

ArmorFiend (151674) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507195)

Houston, we have a problem: they stole our dog and replaced it with a stupid white frisbee.

Re:The reason is in the picture... (1)

Zakabog (603757) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507483)

Wouldn't it be "Kazakhstan, we have a problem"? this isn't NASA you know...

Article text -- slashdotted already (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507208)

The World's No.1 Science & Technology News Service

Beagle 2 may have sped to its death

17:52 08 March 04

NewScientist.com news service

The missing Beagle 2 lander may have crunched into the Martian dust after plummeting through an unexpectedly thin atmosphere.

New measurements from the spacecraft's mothership, Mars Express, suggest the upper atmosphere can be far less dense than anyone thought. This could have been fatal for the lander because it relied on the atmosphere's braking effect to trigger the release of its parachute.

If the main parachute opened too late, the probe would have the hit the ground too fast to survive. It may not even have had time to inflate the airbags intended to cushion its landing.

But this was only one of many gloomy scenarios that the project scientists are considering to explain why the probe has been silent since it was ejected from Mars Express on 19 December.

"We're analysing all the possible failure modes - and there are an awful lot", said Beagle 2 mission manager Mark Sims, at a meeting in London, UK, on Monday.

Rapid fluctuation

Other atmospheric factors being considered include turbulence. After NASA's rover Spirit landed it measured the temperature of the atmosphere in the kilometre above it.

The temperature was fluctuating very rapidly - on a timescale of seconds. If the same thing was happening at the Beagle 2 landing site, the severe turbulence could, says Sims, have collapsed the parachute.

Another line of investigation has been prompted by a picture of Beagle 2, snapped as it was ejected from Mars Express. The receding probe is half in shadow, but within the shadow there is a bright glint. This is cause for concern because the probe's surface should be smooth.

"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.

Scouring the surface

Whilst the team analyse these scenarios, a NASA satellite is being used to scour the surface of Mars for signs of the lander. The camera on the Mars Global Surveyor, with a resolution of 1.6 metres per pixel, should be able to spot the remnants of the parachutes, air-bags or even the white shell that enclosed Beagle 2's innards. The camera has already been used to pin-point the positions of the NASA rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

Subscribe to New Scientist for more news and features

Related Stories

Hope all but gone for Beagle 2
7 January 2004

Beagle stays silent as possible failures are mooted
30 December 2003

Beagle 2 successfully separates from mothership
19 December 2003

For more related stories
search the print edition Archive

Weblinks

Beagle 2

Mars Express

NASA's rovers - Spirit and Opportunity

About half of Beagle 2's 60-kilometre-long landing ellipse has now been scanned, and bright white pixels have been picked out in two images, taken near the end of February.

In one, the white spots sit on the rim of a crater. These may turn out to be boulders. The second image shows four white pixels in a line. 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.

However the Beagle 2 team have asked for a higher resolution close-up of the "string of pearls", and more pictures will be taken this week. It is a race against time, says Colin Pillinger, the lander's lead scientist: "We run the risk that by the end of March a thin veneer of dust may have covered up the evidence."

Finding debris on the surface might at least reveal at what stage the mission failed. But if neither of the probe's two parachutes opened, Beagle 2 may be forever undetectable - buried in a crater of its own making.

Jenny Hogan

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Politics.. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507218)

I think the Americans jammed the signals from it so they could look like winners when their own probe system got there. The last thing the current administration needed was to play second fiddle to a europe based project.

Here's the only theory that matters: (-1, Flamebait)

FartKnox (759313) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507221)

Maybe FORTKNOX did something to FUCK IT UP?!?!?

Just a thought. In your heart, you know I'm right.

Conversions... (5, Insightful)

PeaceTank (758859) | more than 10 years ago | (#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... (4, Interesting)

Ateryx (682778) | more than 10 years ago | (#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... (4, Interesting)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507413)

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... (3, Insightful)

addaon (41825) | more than 10 years ago | (#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... (3, Interesting)

cyclone1996 (666679) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507500)

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 supposed to validate and test the software (and they are usually fairly independent, if things are set up correctly).

Another thing I've encountered with working on NASA spacecraft is that the systems engineering is just a bitch - the thing is so complex nobody really understands how it works from one end to the other. The guidance guys may have this slick new way to do an inertion burn - but they don't realize the duty cycle on the engine will create a heat load that the thermal system can't dissipate - and the thermal guys don't know the first thing about how the engine and guidance works so they don't catch it until it's too late. Misunderstanding of complex systems is often a problem that leads to failures.

Money (0, Flamebait)

Flozzin (626330) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507225)

The story says that the American missions landed without a probablem. That was due to their, "robust" airbags. We also spent over twice as much as they did. So when we encounter things we do not except everything still goes ok. When it comes to space flight, I don't mind spending alot of money, as long as that means everything will work out, or close to it. Instead of spending the extra money on the project( Europe ), they decided to waste 370 million, and have nothing to show for it except failure.

Re:Money (4, Informative)

nastyphil (111738) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507359)

The Beagle2 lander was a small part of the overall mission. It was the result of an opportunity ('scuse the pun)later in the Mars Express project to tack an extra mission onto the mission platform. The process of obtaining detailed imaging of the surface of Mars is far, far more than "nothing to show for it except for failure." Have a look at the ESA page about the mission for more information.

Re:Money (2, Informative)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507398)

>they decided to waste 370 million

The beagle2 cost about $60 million.

Opportunity and Spirit cost $820 million dollars.

>We also spent over twice as much as they did.

Nope, about 12 to 14x what the US spent.

Re:Money (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507443)

you are a retard.

Re:Money (2, Interesting)

Flozzin (626330) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507478)

*defends self* Sorry about the bad numbers, I grabbed them from the article. Our two projects cost 820 million. The beagle 2 cost less. It did not need its own rocket, but still, we spent more money, thats a fact. Everyone loves wal-mart because of its low prices. Ever buy something from there then it goes bad a few days after? You know why? Because its cheap. If you want something done right, it is going to cost you money.

Well, what do you expect. They didnt fully test (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507253)

From what I read, they didnt fully test Beagle. I believe NASA found out that their parachute didnt work for the rovers in the beginning, and they tested at Ames Research wind tunel. I bet the same with Beagle. The parachute didnt work and probably shred into pieces. Of course if the parachute is shredded, the Beagle probably did land about 25 feet beneath the martian soil :D

This is my theory.... (-1)

BurKaZoiD (611246) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507261)

...I think they forgot to put the batteries in the damn thing.

$370 millions for Beagle!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507277)

$370 millions for hitting a rock on Mars.

Now that's expensive science project.

Yikes, That Damage Looks Like... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507279)

"...and possible physical damage to Beagle 2..."

...could have been caused by the Mars Rover ripping off the protective clothing of the Beagle 2! I see nipple ring here people!

Off-topic Slashdot query (0, Offtopic)

jdaily (35368) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507292)

I submitted a NASA-related story that was accepted nearly 48 hours ago, but has never appeared. Has anyone noticed whether Slashdot is running that far behind on its queue, or did my story go the way of the Beagle 2?

for want of... (3, Insightful)

sssmashy (612587) | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

Hexadecimal conversions? (-1, Flamebait)

Thinkit4 (745166) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507338)

Perhaps it could be because of decimalhexadecimal conversions. It is known that english to metric caused another Mars observer to go down, so the more complicated radix conversions could be at play here. Standardizing on hexadecimal SI (using base units without prefixes) would help.

Re:Hexadecimal conversions? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507462)

"English to metric", wtf?

it went down because the US used non-standard units.

When Will NASA Learn (0, Offtopic)

www.fuckingdie.com (759660) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507348)

Stop installing WindowsME on multi-billion dollar space exploration devices.

Poodle Two? (3, Funny)

photonX (743718) | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

Possible sighting of Beagle probe (3, Informative)

jelle (14827) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507368)

CNN [cnn.com] has the scoop.

Great Picture (2, Funny)

VivianC (206472) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507370)

Thanks for the link to the "damage" photo. It makes it all so clear. It's my own fault for reading the articles...

what about engineering errors? (1)

bani (467531) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507371)

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.

Why did it fail? (-1, Flamebait)

AntiBasic (83586) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507379)

It was made in the EUSSR.

Hoolywood Union Problems (2, Funny)

highwindarea (732127) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507382)

There was no beagle. They were go to fake it in the desert but then they had union problems.

Isn't it perfectly clear? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507403)

Obviously, the clarity is lost on slashdot readers. It is quite obvious that the subsurface dwellers of Mars did not want that probe to work.

Here's why:

The Martian underlords had a secret pact with Russia and the United States, ever since we became a spacefaring people. They told us what to ignore and where not to look.

Apparently, the UK did not get the memo.

When the Martians discovered that the probe was heading straight for their hidden subsurface entrance, they immediately vaporized with a heat ray.

I believe that my explanation has more plausability, and really goes to what everyone, deep down, really believes.

Contingency thought of! (-1, Troll)

eamonman (567383) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507427)

From the article:
That idea is supported by evidence from NASA, which also reported a less-dense atmosphere than expected on the entry of its first rover, Spirit, on Jan. 3. NASA succeeded in getting its vehicle down safely because of Spirit's multiple chutes and robust air bag system.

So basically we're saying that the European retards didn't retard enough? ;) Ah well, it seems that this a case where engineers behind the scenes of Spirit would snicker and say, ha ha guys, we thought of that one!... if they happend to be the childish and petty type ;)

No... No... No... (1)

Sideshow Coward (732864) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507446)

The reason is that Beagle 2 spent too much time partying, getting high, having dirty monkey sex with cute English lit student.... No... wait... That's how I failed my first year at uni.

Obvious (2, Funny)

dedazo (737510) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507458)

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.

Has the atmosphere DRASTICALLY changed in 20 yrs? (3, Interesting)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 10 years ago | (#8507491)

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?

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