[FPSPACE] Cosmos 1 Weblog Update - June 23, 2005 19:12 PDT
zirconic1 at earthlink.net
Fri Jun 24 18:10:41 EDT 2005
From: Stefan Barensky <stefan at orbireport.com>
Sent: Jun 24, 2005 4:24 AM
>> So, Beagle 2 was poorly executed. I guess what I don't understand is, if it
> was so bad, why did ESA give it a ride on Mars Express?
Agreed. But let me expand upon this a bit.
Since all of these things are funded by government money, it is impossible to define things as "politics" and "not politics." I prefer to think of politics as the environment in which all of this stuff operates, but it is like a swimming pool and the question is if you are in the deep end or the shallow end of the political fluid.
But you're absolutely right that this had little to do with sound engineering or management principles, and much to do with political maneuvering and the inherent politics of the ESA system.
>Mars Express is an ESA mission, managed and funded by ESA.
And ESA is a collection of nations, which creates an a priori bias toward spreading the work and the credit around to as many countries as possible. But ESA operates in a certain way, which is that the agency funds the spacecraft, whereas individual countries fund the instruments.
>Beagle 2 was considered an "experiment" on the mission, and as other
experiments it had to be provided and managed directly by member states (in
this case, UK).
>Beagle 2 was almost removed from the mission when it appeared it might not
be ready in time for integration. A political fuss was then made around it
to force ESA to pay for part of the bill.
Yes, although a little more information is needed. Beagle 2 was supposed to be entirely paid for by the British, either as a private spacecraft (the initial intention) or including much government money (the final result). I'm not sure of all the details, but the UK government decided that it did not want to pay all of the costs and somehow got ESA to cover the remainder. This might have been intended as some kind of "loan" from ESA to the UK government, with the expectation that the UK would eventually reimburse ESA.
Anyway, it is also worth noting that Beagle 2 was bureaucratically treated as if it was an experiment, as opposed to a spacecraft. Okay, so some of you are asking _but what does this mean?_ As it has been explained to me, it means that ESA tends to have lower standards for its experiments than its spacecraft. If a spacecraft fails, then the mission is dead. But if an experiment fails, then the mission can probably continue. And experiments are usually contributed by member nations. So the attitude is that if something like an Italian gamma ray spectrometer fails on a spacecraft, it is only the Italians who are embarrassed and ESA has nothing to worry about.
The problem is that Beagle 2 was never really an experiment. If it failed to separate, for instance, it could seriously impact the Mars Express mission. And it was far higher profile than any other experiment on Mars Express. So it should have been held to a higher standard of quality, redundancy and review than the experiments on Mars Express. Plus, Beagle 2 became an ESA responsibility when ESA spent money on it.
All water under the bridge you might say, but failure has a value because it can be instructive, and as I wrote in my TSR piece(s), there are plenty of lessons to learn from Beagle 2, even if the biggest one is "don't do it like this again." Which brings us to the next point:
"I don't think we can say that ESA tried to hush the Beagle 2 failure report.
It would be more accurate to say that some people at ESA wanted to have it
out and others did not (presumably depending on their responsibilities and
citizenship, although I know some major UK opponents to B2). Since it
eventually went out, we know who won."
Actually, I think that we can say exactly that ESA tried to hush the failure report. After all, the lead scientist at ESA (David Southwood) specifically said that they were not going to release the report and said that ESA believed in "a different kind of openness," which was essentially a kind of openness that didn't require being open about anything.
The report was only released (correct me if I'm wrong) when the UK government finally released it in response to an "open government" lawsuit. ESA clearly did not want to release the report. They were forced to.
>For ESA, the loss of Beagle 2 is not a bad thing as it showed that it was
not the good way (nor the good budget) to manage such a program (they can
say to some politicians "See? We told you so!") and it will be a good
argument to refuse it when it is proposed again.
Well, yes and no. I agree that it serves as a very useful demonstration proof that you should not cut too many corners. It demonstrates that space missions cannot be done extremely cheap. And we are lucky in some ways that it failed, because if it had succeeded, we would have had a lot more government officials calling for extremely cheap missions that would have had a high failure rate. We would lose some missions and some money before we learned our lesson.
But the loss was a bad thing for ESA because it was an embarrassment. Even though it was a British spacecraft, ESA got tarnished by the loss.
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