UK Science Minister Lord Sainsbury Outlines Beagle 2 Inquiry
Beagle 2, the British-built element of ESA's Mars Express mission, has failed to communicate since its first radio contact was missed shortly after it was due to land on Mars on Christmas Day. The Beagle 2 Management Board met in London on Friday 6 February and, following an assessment of the situation, declared Beagle 2 lost.
Today, the UK Science Minister Lord Sainsbury and the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that an ESA/UK inquiry would be held into the failure the Beagle 2 lander.
Lord Sainsbury, of the Department of Trade and Industry, said: "I believe such an inquiry will be very useful. The reasons identified by the Inquiry Board will allow the experience gained from Beagle 2 to be used for the benefit of future European planetary exploration missions."
The ESA Director General, Jean-Jacques Dordain, said : "ESA is a partnership of its Member States and sharing the lessons learnt from good and bad experiences is fundamental in cooperation."
The Inquiry Board is to be chaired by the ESA Inspector General, René Bonnefoy. The UK deputy chairman will be David Link MBE.
The inquiry will investigate whether it can be established why Beagle 2 may have failed and set out any lessons which can be learnt for future missions. Such inquiries are routine in the event of unsuccessful space missions and this one will help inform future ESA robotic missions, to Mars and other bodies in the solar system.
The Inquiry Board will be set up under normal ESA procedures by the Inspector General. Because the inquiry is into a British-built lander, it will report to Lord Sainsbury as well as to the Director General of ESA.
Its terms of reference are as follows:
· Assess the available data/documentation pertaining to the in-orbit operations, environment and performance characterisation, and to the on-ground tests and analyses during development;
· Identify possible issues and shortcomings in the above and in the approach adopted, which might have contributed to the loss of the mission;
· Analyse the programmatic environment (i.e. decision-making processes, level of funding and resources, management and responsibilities, interactions between the various entities) throughout the development phase;
· Identify possible issues and shortcomings which might have contributed to the loss of the mission.
The Board, made up of people with no direct involvement in the Beagle 2 mission, is expected to begin work shortly and report by the end of March 2004.
The key players in the Beagle 2 mission, including Colin Pillinger, the Open University, the University of Leicester, the National Space Science Centre, EADS-Astrium, and BNSC partners have all welcomed the setting up of the Inquiry Board.
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Beagle 2: A Fortunate Failure
Honolulu - Jan 13, 2004
Everyone interested in Mars exploration should now take a few minutes off from looking at those fine photos of Gusev Lava Flow sent back by the Spirit rover. It is time to fall on our knees, face toward Memphis and give thanks to Elvis that the British Mars lander Beagle 2 has failed. I can't think of any possible event more potentially disastrous for the future of unmanned planetary exploration than the success of this particular mission writes Jeffrey F. Bell.