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Starlyte

Beagle mission 'poorly managed'

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The European Space Agency says poor management must share some blame for the failure of the Beagle 2 mission.

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The last contact: Beagle is ejected from Mars Express

Contact with the Mars probe was lost last December and it is unknown whether the UK-built lander ever made it down to the surface of the Red Planet.

The official inquiry into the loss said there was too little investment at the start of the £50m Beagle project.

But Professor David Southwood, Esa's director of science, said the project overall was not under-funded.

"We won't ever know for sure what went wrong," he said at a media briefing in London. "Maybe new evidence will emerge; perhaps we will get a picture.

"You never know, one day in the future, Europeans walking across the surface of Mars will find Beagle."

Little time

The Commission of Inquiry on Beagle 2, jointly set up in February by the European Space Agency (Esa) and the British National Space Centre (BNSC), has put forward 19 recommendations for the future.

The commission has interviewed the major participants in the mission - which piggybacked a lift to the Red Planet on the Mars Express orbiter - and reviewed its design and management.

Its report was submitted to the UK's science minister Lord Sainsbury and to Esa's director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain last month. However, it will not be released to the public - only the recommendations.

These focus mainly on organisational issues and relate to how future missions should be handled differently.

They call for decisions to be made early in a project's development.

With Beagle, because it was a late "add-on" to Mars Express - there was always the concern that the lander's engineers were being asked to do too much in too short a space of time.

And although tremendous engineering was achieved in the tightest of schedules, insufficient end-to-end testing of the probe took place before it launched.

This was not the way to approach such a risky mission, Professor Southwood said, and matters were not helped by the way Beagle had to chase funding.

"I don't think that, overall, Beagle had too little money; it just didn't have it at the right time.

"It should have had it at the beginning and there should have been a contracting authority to make sure the mission was put together in a way that allowed managers to control costs effectively."

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"I am asking Esa to make the earliest possible decision to go to Mars again."

Prof Colin Pillinger, Beagle's lead scientist

FULL ARTICLE LINK

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