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Beagle 2 Official Inquiry Released

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the unfortunately-only-lassie-can-read-it dept.

Mars 113

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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113 comments

I didn't do it (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11588890)

Neither did Capt'n Hector... fp!

The beagle (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11588892)

has landed.

Buggered Beagle (0, Troll)

Mercedes308 (832423) | more than 9 years ago | (#11588895)

Teaches them for using crappy gear

Re:Buggered Beagle (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11588953)

And to NOT entrust the Brits with anything beyond fish & chips shops.

Re:Buggered Beagle (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589007)

I suppose the burn up of Columbia means NASA should stick to flipping burgers too?

And what about NASA's Genesis mission? The chutes on that one failed to open too, just like on Beagle 2. And guess what? Genesis and Beagle 2 used the same faulty American made chute mechanism! Guess you ought think before you make a clueless remark.

Re:Buggered Beagle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589077)

" I suppose the burn up of Columbia means NASA should stick to flipping burgers too?"

That may or may not be true. But if we look at ourselves critically ***WE SHOULD VIEW THIS AS A POSSIBLE OPTION/SOLUTION****

Re:Buggered Beagle (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589035)

We ran the world better than the yanks do now.

And what's wrong with fish & chips?
Supersize me, fat boy.

Re:Buggered Beagle (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589735)

Your comments might mean something if I were actually American or even lived in America. The presumptive idiocy that you Brits possess is almost unreal and only goes to strengthen my original statement.

Hey, I think it's tea time. Perhaps you should go choke on a scone. Don't forget to brush your teeth afterwards.

Re:Buggered Beagle (1)

adamsan (606899) | more than 9 years ago | (#11590809)

I think they were criticising your logic rather than your nationality.

Re:Buggered Beagle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11591409)

You actually ran the world, whereas the Americans are still trying.

Confusing... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11588898)

I read land of fucking instead of lack of funding, please try less confusing verbalizations :)

- ph0

Re:Confusing... (-1, Offtopic)

Lispy (136512) | more than 9 years ago | (#11588914)

And I thought it was about a fabled search engine.

Sod 'em (5, Informative)

RobertTaylor (444958) | more than 9 years ago | (#11588899)

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."

Re:Sod 'em (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11591948)

An English friend of mine once told me that the Brits could have gone to the moon if they'd had the money.

When the Americans fail, laugh at their incompetence. When the Brits fail, blame a lack of funding.

When'd we get the mars icon? (-1, Offtopic)

laptop006 (37721) | more than 9 years ago | (#11588900)

It's nice, reminds me of the "where am I" from Snow Crash.

Re:When'd we get the mars icon? (1, Offtopic)

PseudoSchizo (847596) | more than 9 years ago | (#11588908)

I thought it was the Firefox logo..

*ducks*

Re:When'd we get the mars icon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11588937)

Looks like a Palantír to me...

Re:When'd we get the mars icon? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589089)

Snow crash is a great book... if you like adolescent teenage fantasies about skateboards, computers, hot robot chicks, and samurai swordfights.

Total trash.

Lessons learned report (4, Funny)

Realistic_Dragon (655151) | more than 9 years ago | (#11588911)

1) Do not do calculations requiring a high degree of accuracy on a Pentium.

Re:Lessons learned report (3, Funny)

quarkscat (697644) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589258)

(2) Avoid mixing Imperial and SI units in
your calculations (thanks NASA & Lockheed)

Just a guess. (2, Interesting)

mikeophile (647318) | more than 9 years ago | (#11588943)

But could the failure of the Beagle 2 have been due to it's cratering [futura-sciences.com] in the Martian dirt?

Re:Just a guess. (2, Insightful)

zootm (850416) | more than 9 years ago | (#11588974)

I think you're confusing effect with cause, here...

Re:Just a guess. (3, Informative)

FrostedWheat (172733) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589145)

That crater isn't believed to have been caused by Beagle 2. It's to large.

Here is the official site for details about that image: http://www.msss.com/mars_images/moc/2004/08/31/ [msss.com]

I would like to appologise. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11588971)

For playing with my shiny new green laser pointer and shooting down beagle 2 by mistaking it for an aircraft.

Re:I would like to appologise. (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11590795)

For playing with my shiny new green laser pointer and shooting down beagle 2 by mistaking it for an aircraft.

I think the FBI will want to "probe" you.

Where from here? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11588977)

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...

The Conclusion. (-1, Offtopic)

DeathByDuke (823199) | more than 9 years ago | (#11588982)

Beagle 2 was actually a SAS probe, designed to hunt down and disrupt the NASA probes.

Evidence:

1 developed 'bugs' in its software, causing it to go into safe mode (Beagle 2 whacked it on the head with a mallet)

the other one developed wheel trouble (Beagle 2 left some chewing gum on the wheel)

The shape of Beagle 2 has been identified in the heatshield wreckage of Opportunitys location. We believe Beagle 2 is now preparing to possibly stalk Opportunity and gain more experience for its next level up in MarsRPG.

Re:The Conclusion. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589056)

Mod up, you miserable fucks.

Funding, Design were major problems for Beagle 2 (3, Interesting)

Rob Carr (780861) | more than 9 years ago | (#11588985)

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.

Re:Funding, Design were major problems for Beagle (2, Insightful)

DingerX (847589) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589293)

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 communication. Bad design is the effect, not the cause.

Re:Funding, Design were major problems for Beagle (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11590534)

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

Spaceward Ho (-1, Troll)

flopsy mopsalon (635863) | more than 9 years ago | (#11588994)

Technical details aside, I think we can all agree that the root cause of the Beagle 2's failure can be found in the society and culture from which it originates.

Just think for a moment of the scientific community in Britain, cushily funded by the government and looked upon in their society as respected intellectuals. It's no wonder the Beagle team looked at the mars mission as a routine scientific chore no different from calibrating a microscope or analyzing the content of a meteor.

Now think for a moment about scientist in the US, those beleagured, scrappy NASA workers who have to struggle for grant money and who are often looked upon by the general public as doddering Jerry Lewis types who go around incinerating unsuspecting astronauts. Yet it was their Mars effort that succeeded.

Coincidence? I think not. It is precisely the adverserial environment that the NASA scientists daily toil in that gave them the resilience and adaptability to triumph (think also about the US tradition of steadfast frontiersmen and pioneers vs. British tradition of landed gentry and simple peasant folk). Ironically, you could say it is a Darwinian process.

Re:Spaceward Ho (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589013)

As a former spacecraft engineer, and now scientific instrument builder, there is some truth in this. It's all about the environment surrounding the few with enough intellect to bear in mind _at all times_ that anything done in space is intrinsically dangerous, difficult, and an extreme risk. Every atom must need be accounted for, for every second of every mission. Anything less is failure. And to quote an old friend, failure is not an option. Think Shackleton when you think of space. Only worse: think of Scott.

Re:Spaceward Ho (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589022)

I thought it was the vast amount more money and the vast amount more experience.

But no, apparently it's some 'cushy' scientist funded by the government. Unlike NASA, a vast operation funded by the government. Our lot had to spend half their time looking for funding!

Anyway, what did we learn from any of this?
Mars: deserted wasteland.
Titan: deserted wasteland.
Moon: deserted wasteland.
Venus: deserted wasteland.
What, beyond simple curiousity, is the benefit of any of it?

Re:Spaceward Ho (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589051)

USA after four more years with Bush: deserted wasteland.

Re:Spaceward Ho (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589036)

Stereotypes, gotta love em.

Re:Spaceward Ho (4, Informative)

British-idiot (856832) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589058)

WTF? Cusy jobs for scientists and engineers working for the government in the UK? Scientists held in respect by their society? Fuck me! I've been working my guts out in private industry when I could go and work for that nice Mr. Bliar and be well paid and loved. Hint for non-UK residents: London Tube underground train drivers earn more that most engineers and scientists do in the UK. The hardest thing those blokes have to do is to remember to press the dead-mans pedal every few seconds!

Re:Spaceward Ho (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589199)

There is something about the working conditions on the tube though, and in the short term tube drivies are worth more to the economy than scientists, as my tutor (a theoretical astrophysicist) used to say "I'm of less worth to society than a poet", not to mention tube train drives have to deal with people trying to kill themselves by jumping infornt of the trains trains.

Re:Spaceward Ho (1)

janwedekind (778872) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589283)

The tube drivers have my respect of course.
But what about the scientists developing the Airbus 380?

Re:Spaceward Ho (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11591155)

I predict that the Airbus 380 is going to be a colossal failure. People have to wait long enough to go through Customs when debarking an aircraft that holds only 300 - can you imagine the human toll that will result when one of these monsters holding over 800 people taxis in?

Re:Spaceward Ho (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589061)

cushily funded by the government

It was under-funded. That was one of the main reasons it fucked up.

Re:Spaceward Ho (5, Interesting)

leecn (828236) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589095)

I think we can all agree that the root cause of the Beagle 2's failure can be found in the society and culture from which it originates

No, we can not all agree on this. Dont presume that you can speak for everyone, especially on topics where you (probably) are not qualified to make such statements.

Now think for a moment about scientist in the US, those beleagured, scrappy NASA workers who have to struggle for grant money... Yet it was their Mars effort that succeeded

While I respect your right to have your opinion, I think maybe you are talking out of your ass when you try to pretend that you know why NASA succedded and the Brits failed.

In 2000, Reuters said this:

Still reeling from the spectacular failures of two Mars missions last year, NASA said Thursday it had learned from its mistakes and would not repeat them in an ambitious new mission for 2003...


an 18-member committee headed by former NASA official Thomas Young criticized NASA's "faster, cheaper, better" philosophy, saying it had caused programs to be underfunded by about 30 percent and encouraged staffers to cut corners in vital areas.

Edward Weiler, associate administrator in NASA's Office of Space Science, said staffers had been afraid to report problems because they knew of budget and staffing restraints and did not want to add to the burden

If you want to criticize a failure, that is fine (although I dont think you are qualified to), analysis of errors can help to ensure they dont happen again. But your blind 'america is best - britain sucks' criticism is neither helpful nor true.

Does your Darwin snipe to mean that you do not believe in the theory of evolution by natural selection? I wouldnt be surprised if you don't.

Re:Spaceward Ho (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11590693)

Although I agree that the Britain-bashing is silly, one could perhaps argue that the British should have heeded the lessons already learned by NASA's "cheaper, better, faster" debacle a few years before Beagle. They appearently thought that they were immune from similar problems out of national pride. Cases of national arrogance can be found on both sides here, it seems. Human tribal nature, I guess.

Re:Spaceward Ho (3, Insightful)

Otaku-Joe (856836) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589229)

Are you unaware of how many Mars missions fail? I seem to recall that about 1 in 4 Mars missions (of around 30) have failed. The Climate Orbiter, the Mars Observer, Mariner 8 and Mariner 3 are all classic examples of US failures. I think this alone shows how difficult it is to succeed with this type of mission.

Using the Beagle failure (the reasons for which are still unknown) to bash European and British people, politics and science seems a bit xenophobic to me. The recent success of the Huygens lander shows that ESA is capable of building a good lander and the fact that it hitched a lift with a US mission shows the general all round advantage of combining efforts.

In all this talk relating to the Beagle it seems to have been forgotten that the Mars Express has been a great success and has sent loads of useful new information back. Whilst the Beagle half of the mission is quite dissapointing the Express half has been great.

I would also question the utility of the US landers. Great mission guys but why spend all that money sending 2 cameras on wheels to Mars? Nice snapshots but why not try sending something useful next time like a spectrometer or some other sampling tool?

Of course! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589274)

"I would also question the utility of the US landers."

Yes. They haven't done anything useful. We should use the Beagle as a perfect example of what to do...

"why not try sending something useful next time like a spectrometer or some other sampling tool?"

Maybe if you get off your mental duff and just look:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/current/marsexp lo rationrovers.html
http://athena.cornell.edu/

You might find that it does these things. Don't try to tear down the widely successful ROVER missions to mars by being ignornant of facts.

Also, to help you, there are several missions to Mars from NASA that are doing so much research right now:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/index.cfm
is a list....

Here's just a few Mars specific probes going on right now:
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/current/mar sgloba lsurveyor.html
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/c urrent/2001marso dyssey.html

And while NASA isn't doing as great a job as it could, it is doing *something*.

Now go back to your crawl space before I get medieval on your *ss.

Re:Spaceward Ho (1)

quetzalc0atl (722663) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589948)

while you are certainly making a valid point, there was a certain arrogance toward the beagle mars mission that to some seemed it would spell disaster before it even left the ground.

make no mistake about it: the beagle 2 was a TOTAL loss. not only was the design uterly unprepared, but proper diagnostics were not relayed back during descent which effectively means that not only did the probe crash, but now we will never know WHY exactly it crashed, which means that learning from that mistake is now impossible.

and i am tired of hearing the "well, it actually landed but we just cant hear it" crap. this thing crashed, lets accept it and move on.

also, their design was completely unproven at that time (the nasa rovers have since shown that the overall design CAN work if done properly). given the shoe-string budge that they had, one would think that they would over-engineered their systems and copied the basic scheme of the Viking missions just to play it safe.

i, for one, was looking forward to seeing the results of the beagle 2 since it carried what many would consider to be more revealing scientific instrumentation, as the parent has pointed out.

Re:Spaceward Ho (1)

m50d (797211) | more than 9 years ago | (#11590604)

It's worse than that. Over half of Mars missions have failed (20 of 36). And that's counting the Beagle mission as a success.

Re:Spaceward Ho (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11590777)

I seem to recall that about 1 in 4 Mars missions (of around 30) have failed. The Climate Orbiter, the Mars Observer...

I think it was one orbiter and one lander (Polar Lander) IIRC.

I would also question the utility of the US landers. Great mission guys but why spend all that money sending 2 cameras on wheels to Mars? Nice snapshots but why not try sending something useful next time like a spectrometer or some other sampling tool?

Do you mean Sojourner or the twin rovers? Sojourner *did* have an X-ray spectrometer IIRC, and the twin probes have 3: X-ray, the water-oriented one (i forgot name), and the 12 or so camera filters that reach into UV and IR (remote spectrometry).

Beagle indeed did have some interesting experiments not covered by the rovers, but you can only do so much per mission. Future missions are planned to look at different aspects of Mars. The rover missions were purposely geared toward analyzing ancient water signs.

Re:Spaceward Ho (1)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 9 years ago | (#11593915)

You are right about a few things. From what I've heard about the mission, I would even rate the Mars Express as more than half of the mission. I also applaud the ESA's recent success with Hguyens. I waited a long time for that one. You were asking for it with the US landers comment though.
From the Mars rovers site [nasa.gov]
These are the primary science instruments to be carried by the rovers:
  • Panoramic Camera (Pancam): for determining the mineralogy, texture, and structure of the local terrain.
  • Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES): for identifying promising rocks and soils for closer examination and for determining the processes that formed Martian rocks. The instrument will also look skyward to provide temperature profiles of the Martian atmosphere.
  • Mössbauer Spectrometer (MB): for close-up investigations of the mineralogy of iron-bearing rocks and soils.
  • Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS): for close-up analysis of the abundances of elements that make up rocks and soils.
  • Magnets: for collecting magnetic dust particles. The Mössbauer Spectrometer and the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer will analyze the particles collected and help determine the ratio of magnetic particles to non-magnetic particles. They will also analyze the composition of magnetic minerals in airborne dust and rocks that have been ground by the Rock Abrasion Tool.
  • Microscopic Imager (MI): for obtaining close-up, high-resolution images of rocks and soils.
  • Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT): for removing dusty and weathered rock surfaces and exposing fresh material for examination by instruments onboard.
That covers the spectrometers and sample handling tools for you. Also, the 9 CCD's operating in or near the visible spectrum constitute a total of 5 cameras on each of the rovers. They've provided data on everything from forensics on the heat shield to the insides of craters to clouds and dust storms to the insides of martian rocks.

I admit, our space agency is milking the awesome photos returned by the rovers for all the publicity they're worth, but Spirit and Opportunity are clearly more than just another lousy Yank tourist taking pictures of the Tower Bridge only to label it as London Bridge in their photo album.

Groups of three (3, Interesting)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 9 years ago | (#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 (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#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 (2, Insightful)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589125)

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 landing on Mars. You need to gather experience in increments.

Re:Groups of three (1)

i41Overlord (829913) | more than 9 years ago | (#11591800)

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)

Re:Groups of three (1)

bani (467531) | more than 9 years ago | (#11595341)

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.

Re:Groups of three (2, Funny)

zenmojodaddy (754377) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589078)

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?

Re:Groups of three (1)

Tim the Gecko (745081) | more than 9 years ago | (#11590067)

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!

Re:Groups of three (1)

fimbulvetr (598306) | more than 9 years ago | (#11590475)

No, but is there a MST:3000 version of it?

Re:Groups of three (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11591093)

Deity knows there should be.

If I may be so bold... (4, Interesting)

Jerry Smith (806480) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589094)

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 (the satellites) could continue with observation of the climate etc. Expensive as well but hey, I'd rather have an expensive system in safe orbit than on the less safe surface.

Re:Groups of three (2, Informative)

photonic (584757) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589110)

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 cover and the main parachute;
-Re-bounding (up to 28mtr) of the air-bag/lander into the main parachute;
-Untimely release of the lander from the air-bag.
All four involve some luck but could also have been a major design error.

Doubling up the number of landers only helps against failures due to 'statistical bad luck'. If it was a design error (e.g. parachute to small, fatal error in software) nothing would have helped and you would have three craters instead of one. In case of the Mars Exploration Rovers the doubling worked out beautifully: they now have a double chance on getting good science. Similar for the Voyager probes. It is not always beneficial however: sending two orbiters a la Mars Global Surveyor would have lowered the mission risk, but it wouldn't have doubled the science in case of double success (each orbiter sees the whole planet).

Re:Groups of three (1)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589164)

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 (2, Interesting)

Galvatron (115029) | more than 9 years ago | (#11591193)

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?

Re:Groups of three (1)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 9 years ago | (#11591840)

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 point the wrong way.

With three landers there is a far higher chance that at least one of them will have a functioning ground-to-orbit antenna.

Re:Groups of three (1)

Nicholas Evans (731773) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589202)

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.

Re:Groups of three (2, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11590505)

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

NETLANDER mission (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 9 years ago | (#11592037)

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]

Locomotion (4, Interesting)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

Critical lesson (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589071)

"Rule #1: Don't Have the British build the electronic parts"

Re:Critical lesson (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589241)

Hey, we invented electronics. Ant tea. And America. Oh well, 2 out of 3 isn't bad.

Re:Critical lesson (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589277)

I love ant tea.
Most people are anti it though.

Re:Critical lesson (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589439)

I think you'll find we got tea from the Chinese - though we probably invented tea with milk and sugar, and digestive biscuits.

bureaucracy in, garbage out (0, Redundant)

edward.virtually@pob (6854) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589085)

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.

Re:bureaucracy in, garbage out (4, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11590859)

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.

Freedom of Information Act request by NewScientist (4, Informative)

alanw (1822) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589091)

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]

wow typical excuse (0, Redundant)

cheekyboy (598084) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589214)

Thats about the typical reason for any failed project.

Re:wow typical excuse (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589231)

Maybe that's becuase often that's the cause of a faileur? For example, I know that if I fail to arrive somehwere on time, typically it's becuase I didn't leave soon enough.

STFU you crooked tooth limey bastard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589269)

Go eat some blood pudding you pastey faced limey bastard,

The Mad Yank

Re:STFU you crooked tooth limey bastard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11591129)

Go drink a big refreshing glass of kill yourself, moron.

management experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589309)

Lack of guaranteed funding during the early phases of development

Lack of an adequate managamenent organisation with the relevant experience

Lack of available margins to manage and mitigate risks Let's hope, that Airbus & Co. doesn't suffer from similar problems.

Lack of funding is no reason for failure (3, Insightful)

amichalo (132545) | more than 9 years ago | (#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)

Re:Lack of funding is no reason for failure (1)

jcupitt65 (68879) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589817)

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.

Re:Lack of funding is no reason for failure (3, Insightful)

Sinus0idal (546109) | more than 9 years ago | (#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..

Re:Lack of funding is no reason for failure (2, Insightful)

goldstein (705041) | more than 9 years ago | (#11593636)

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.

Blackwash (5, Interesting)

Toby The Economist (811138) | more than 9 years ago | (#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

Re:Blackwash (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589553)

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

Huh? A British group lead by Pillinger wanted this bolted on and it failed. What conflict of interest does ESA have here? I'm pretty sure a lot of people at ESA wouldnt mind at all if the Brits do their own stuff. *All* of it. Btw, funny headline.

Re:Blackwash (1)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 9 years ago | (#11592127)

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 more comfortable had it said something to effect of, "We believe that we cut too much from the budget for subsystems X and Y, since in retrospect (or testing), these appear to have the highest probability of failure. We also believe that in the future, a new subsystem Z should be utilized to allow for better forensic analysis. Future projects must account for these features in their budgets..."

Re:Blackwash (1)

j-b0y (449975) | more than 9 years ago | (#11594870)

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.

not my fault? (1)

Elminst (53259) | more than 9 years ago | (#11589913)

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?

And the #1 reason this project failed... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11589984)

European socialism.

Power to the people, but at what cost? Both of these projects have been the victim of inadequate funding because of socialist government policies. It doomed Beagle 2 and it almost made Huygens a complete failure.

Bring on the flames if don't like the comment, or simply take to the streets and strike.

AC

Re:And the #1 reason this project failed... (3, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11590643)

European socialism. Power to the people, but at what cost? Both of these projects have been the victim of inadequate funding because of socialist government policies.

Hold on, Tex. How is "less funding" a socialistic thing? I thought most socialistic governments tend to OVERspend tax money, not the other way around.

It appears to me that they essentially made the same mistake that NASA did in the late 90's: try the cheap route.

Actually, the cheap route may not be so bad because some of the cheaper probes *do* work (such as Sojourner). It may be more about prestige and reputation than cost/benefit analysis. If probes that cost 1/4 as much can have 1/3 or more of the reliability of the "full cost" probes, then the net science may be more.

However, it is harder to plan staff levels if there is more uncertainty. This must be factored in. But then again, more frequent but smaller missions may alleviate that problem to some extent.

Space exploration is about risks. You don't learn if you don't try. You don't know if a funding approach is sufficient until you try it. It is to Boldly Go Where No Funding Has Gone Before.

Perhaps if NASA kept on the cheaper route and perfected cheap probes, then in the longer term it would have paid off (and arguably already was).

However, if you go the high-risk route, you generally should put more feedback mechanisms on the probes so that one can learn from mistakes for the next round. This is probably the biggest flaw of Beagle's approach. Trial and error requires that you know what the error was.

As far as the Huygens communications slip-up, that can happen to anybody. NASA has made dumb mistakes also. Huygens had a back-up channel that paid off.

Standard Boilerplate Recommendation #1 (3, Funny)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | more than 9 years ago | (#11590130)

1) The team conducting this study strongly recommends that the members of this team receive substantially more funding in the future.

Lack of testing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11591182)

No testing of the EDLS due to a fixed price variable scope contract with Astrium seem to have left us in the situation where we are not sure if the landing system would ever have worked. For a few million quid we could perform belated testing of the design which may help future missions and exonerate the EDLS design team from blame.

How many missions must end up succeeding in-spite of just as many shortcomings? Knew the ESA would use this as an excuse to grab future dev work from the Brits.

europe and space (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11591479)

Lessons left out:

Leave the exploration of space to those qualified and experienced - the United States of America.

Quit trying to compete with the USA technology wise, because you will lose.

Re:europe and space (3, Interesting)

halivar (535827) | more than 9 years ago | (#11591660)

Quit trying to compete with the USA technology wise, because you will lose.

Are you kidding? We're still sending people into space with less computing power on board than TI-83's. Well, we were. Today we don't send anyone into space because our so-called "advanced technology" is old n' busted. EU's got the new hotness, and we got the old n' busted. I would like to see China and the EU do more in space, so we feel more compelled to one-up them and do even greater things in space than we have yet done. As an added side benefit to all, international space races have been and will continue to be of benefit to all humanity.

In retrospect... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11591508)

With the wealth of scientific data that the MER project has returned over the last year, could the Beagle 2 have given us any more? I understand the need to find out what went wrong for engineering reasons, but scientifically, were we really set back that much?

only 1/3rd Mars missions succeed (2, Interesting)

peter303 (12292) | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

British go-getters have gone (0, Troll)

Neoporcupine (551534) | more than 9 years ago | (#11591878)

I propose a cultural problem.

I would like a Brit to reflect here on why nearly all of their major high profile public projects are doomed to spectacular failure.

I get the feeling that the once great empire building country seems to have exported and lost it's go-getters and is stuck with second rate middle management who are hell bent on staying where they are, interfering with their own agendas and covering their butts later.
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