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:
1. Technical Issues
· 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.
Notes to Editors
The Beagle 2 project to make a lander element of the ESA Mars Express mission was headed by the Open University, providing the science lead, and EADS-Astrium, the prime contractor responsible for the main design, development and management of the lander.
David Link is a former Director of Science and Radar Observation at Matra Marconi Space, now EADS-UK.
Beagle 2 was designed to look for signs of life on Mars. It was to parachute down to the surface of the planet and collect soil samples, which would have been analysed for signs of past and present biological activity. The lander was also packed with a suite of instruments to take pictures, acquire geological information and study the weather, including temperature, pressure and wind.
The Beagle 2 lander was funded through a partnership arrangement involving the Open University, EADS-Astrium, the DTI, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), the Office of Science and Technology and ESA. Funding also came from the National Space Science Centre and the Wellcome Foundation. UK principal investigators for Beagle 2 came from the Open University (gas analysis package), Leicester University (environmental sensors and x-ray spectrometer) and Mullard Space Science Laboratory (imaging systems).
The ESA Mars Express spacecraft, the mother ship, successfully entered orbit around Mars on Christmas Day and, following a series of orbital manoeuvres, has been performing excellently as it starts its two-year global survey of the planet. Among first results announced on 23 January were unprecedented 3-D high-resolution images of the surface and the detection of water ice on the South Pole.
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