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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 June, 2005, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
Mars probe 'was doomed' say MPs
Beagle 2   Image: Beagle 2
Beagle's lander failed to send a signal back on Christmas Day 2003
The ill-fated Beagle 2 Mars probe should never have been given the go-ahead, a powerful MPs' committee has said.

The much-hyped probe was "doomed from the start", the public accounts committee said while criticising the management of civil space activities.

The projects, in partnerships with the government, were "expensive, uncertain, and over-ambitious", it said.

The UK government spent 188m on civil space activities in 2003/04.

The Beagle 2 mission cost an estimated 50m.

It is public money and we are spending a lot of money on this (space activities)
Edward Leigh, committee chairman at time of report
The much-trumpeted Beagle 2 probe was supposed to have landed on Mars to look for signs of life on the Red Planet, but nothing was heard from the probe after it was ejected from its mothership, the Mars Express orbiter.

The failure of the mission was a huge blow to Britain's space community and the European Space Agency (Esa).

In a report on Thursday, the committee said poor risk management left the project with "no real prospect of success".

"The project suffered from an over-ambitious time schedule, punishing weight constraints, poor management and uncertain funding," it said.

'Allowance for risk'

Speaking on BBC Radio Five Live Breakfast, Edward Leigh, who chaired the committee when it carried out the inquiry, said: "You probably think we're just boring bean counters but it is public money and we are spending a lot of money on this and frankly the Beagle 2 project failed because, as we said, there was an over-ambitious time-table, there were last-minute technical changes, there was uncertain funding, [and] there was poor risk management.

"Of course it's an ambitious project, of course it's a good project but it's got to be run properly on behalf of the taxpayer."

The research involved was to answer a question that has puzzled people for thousands of years
Beagle 2 project creator Prof Colin Pillinger
The government's space activities are carried out by a partnership of 10 government departments, agencies and research councils.

"The British National Space Centre and the Department [of Trade and Industry] should only proceed with such ambitious projects if sufficient resources can be committed from the outset to give a reasonable prospect of success, making due allowance for risk, the committee said.

But Open University planetary scientist Professor Colin Pillinger, who first proposed the Beagle 2 project, told BBC News it was "not a waste of money".

Earlier he defended the right to take risks.

"You do not inspire anybody if it is a forgone conclusion and we are in the business of doing research, he told Five Live:

"The research involved was to answer a question that has puzzled people for thousands of years."

In its report on the activities, the Public Accounts Committee acknowledged space projects were expensive and uncertain, saying some, such as Beagle 2, had failed and others had been delayed.

What happened to Beagle 2 as it headed to Mars?

But it said the partnership had to improve its risk management, and the agencies involved should put in sufficient funding at the outset of a project to identify and mitigate technical and construction risks.

They should also address the risks posed by collaborating with other bodies such as Esa and the US space agency (Nasa), and they should deal with risks explicitly in appraising project funding.

The committee also called on the partnership to look again at the costs of the Galileo project - the European satellite-navigation system.

The partnership has estimated the UK would benefit by 6bn from the project, with an outlay of 78m.

But the committee backed the findings of a previous report which queried the cost and benefits analysis.

It also questioned the procurement system used by Esa. The cost of space programmes are increased by the system which means contracts are not always awarded to the most cost-effective bidder, the committee said.




SEE ALSO:
Beagle mission 'poorly managed'
24 May 04 |  Science/Nature
Beagle team probes its own loss
24 Aug 04 |  Science/Nature


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