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Last Updated: Monday, 24 May, 2004, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Beagle 2: The recommendations
Beagle model, Image rights reserved by Beagle 2
A bold idea that did not come off, built in a way that will not be repeated
Our science editor Dr David Whitehouse

The official inquiry into the missing UK-led Beagle 2 Mars lander has blamed organisational failings for the loss of the space probe.

Beagle was carried to the Red Planet on Europe's Mars Express orbiter. The small robot was ejected from its mothership on 19 December last year and should have landed on the Martian surface on Christmas Day.

But no contact has been made with Beagle 2 since it was pictured moving away from Mars Express on a collision course with the planet.

The inquiry board has not singled out any act by any individual, nor any technical failure, that in itself could have been the unique cause of the failure of Beagle 2.

What happened to Beagle 2 as it headed to Mars?

The report - led by Esa's Inspector General, Rene Bonnefoy, and David Link from EADS-Astrium (UK) - has not been made public. Only its 19 recommendations have been released for open scrutiny.

Most of these concern organisational issues and should guide any future missions to land on Mars.

Although the European Space Agency (Esa) is committed to going back to Mars with a lander, this project is unlikely to take the form of Beagle 2 and will certainly not be managed in the same way.

The inquiry board's recommendations are listed as follows:

  1. Future lander missions should be under the responsibility of an agency with appropriate capability and resources to manage it. The lander/orbiter mission should be managed as an integrated whole. Nationally funded science instruments should be included in the lander on the same basis as on the orbiter.
  2. For future science payloads which are critical to overall mission success or have a very high public profile, the Esa executive should make a formal, comprehensive assessment of all aspects of the proposals including technical, management and finance, and advise [its] Space Science Policy Committee (SPC) accordingly before acceptance. If the assessment is not positive, Esa should advise the SPC not to accept the proposal.
  3. Sponsoring agencies of nationally funded contributions to Esa projects should ensure that the required financing is committed at the outset to meet the estimated cost at completion and require that a structured development programme is established.
  4. In addition to the Esa-led reviews of interfaces, formal project reviews of nationally funded contributions to Esa missions should be undertaken by the sponsoring agency to a standard agreed with Esa and should cover the entire project.
  5. When an independent review of a nationally funded project, such as the Casani review of Beagle 2, is commissioned, it is essential that Esa and the sponsoring agency ensure that its recommendations are properly dispositioned and those which are agreed are actioned and followed up through a formal process.
  6. For future projects, heads of agreement or similar formal arrangements between co-operating entities, Esa, and national sponsors, should be put in place at the outset of projects and should include formal consultations at key stages of the projects to jointly consider its status.
  7. Fixed price contracting should be avoided solely as a mechanism for controlling costs, and used only where the sponsor and contractor are in alignment on the requirements and scope of the work and the sharing of risks between them. Both parties should be confident that the contractor has sufficient margins to manage his uncertainties and risks.
  8. For future high-profile/high-risk projects, Esa and any sponsoring agency should manage the expectations of the outcome of the project in a balanced and objective way to prepare for both success and failure.
  9. At the start of a programme, the funding authority(ies) should require that there is system-level documentation. This is necessary to provide all partners with the technical requirements for the project and sufficient design description and justification such that the margins and risks being taken in each partner's area of responsibility are visible.
  10. Future planetary missions should be designed with robust margins to cope with the inherent uncertainties, and they should not be initiated without adequate and timely resources to achieve that.
  11. Future planetary entry missions should include a minimum telemetry of critical performance measurements and spacecraft health status during mission critical phases such as entry and descent.
  12. For future planetary entry missions, a more robust communications system should be used, allowing direct commanding of the lander for essential actuations and resets without software involvement - enabling recoveries in catastrophic situations.
  13. Planetary probe missions involving high-level shocks from pyrotechnics and other events should undergo representative shock environmental testing at system level.
  14. Adequate and realistic deployment tests should be performed, and sufficient time and resources must be available in the development of a new planetary mission.
  15. Elimination of internal connectors for mass saving should be avoided if at all possible. But if unavoidable, a stringent system of check and independent crosscheck should be followed during the final wiring operation.
  16. A back-up for the entry detection event must be included in the design of planetary entry probes.
  17. Future planetary entry missions should include a release of the back cover and front shield that is aerodynamically stable and analytically predictable to avoid uncontrolled contact of front shield with the lander.
  18. Sufficient difference between ballistic coefficients of all separated items, e.g. back cover assembly and the main parachute, or other positive means, must be ensured to exclude collision after separation.
  19. Adequate competencies in airbag and parachute technology must be available for future European planetary missions, making best use of existing expertise e.g. in US and Russia.

The BBC's David Shukman
"This was Britain's boldest mission into space"

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