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Final report on Beagle 2

UK space agency and public cash required

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Professor Colin Pillinger has called on the government to set up a UK space agency so that failures like Beagle 2 can be avoided.

Speaking at a press conference in London this morning, Prof Pillinger said he though Beagle 2 had most likely crashed. The data showed the Martian atmosphere was thinner than the team had anticipated, he said, so the parachutes would not have deployed in time to stop the craft from smashing into the ground.

Beagle 2 was a UK built lander that blasted off with the Mars Express mission. It's mission was ambitious: it was going to look for signs of life on the surface of Mars. It separated from the main spacecraft just before Christmas and was due to land on Christmas day. However, no signal came from the surface and after a few weeks of hunting, scientists were forced to conceded that Beagle had gone missing.

The official inquiry into what went wrong concluded that no single technical failing was to blame, but that the project had been poorly managed. One of the key findings was that decisions need to be made early on in projects to give them the best chance of success - a sentiment echoed by Prof Pillinger. He argued that it is imperative that the decision to return to Mars be taken quickly, so that the project can be planned properly, and the engineers have time to do proper testing.

Professor Southwood, the European Space Agency's director of science, said that because Beagle 2 was a late add-on to the Mars Express launch, there was always a risk that the deadlines were too tight. He also said that having to chase funding did not help: "I don't think that, overall, Beagle had too little money; it just didn't have it at the right time," he told the BBC.

The full report is not going to be made public, but the 19 recommendations will be. One of these was that landers carry transmitters so their descent can be monitored. Another was that high-risk missions should be publicly, rather than privately funded. ®

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