Brussels, 07 Feb 2005 The go-ahead to develop the ill-fated Beagle 2 lander should never have been granted, according to the full report of the Commission of Inquiry set up to examine the reasons for the mission's failure.
A summary of the commission's findings was first released in May 2003, after the European Space Agency (ESA) and the British government, which set up the inquiry, decided not to publish the full report for reasons of commercial confidentiality.
That decision has since been reversed, however, and the full findings were published in full on 3 February, reports the BBC. They reveal that the ESA peer review committee that first approved Beagle 2 did so only on the understanding that the mission was fully funded from the start, which it was not.
Thus: 'The Commission's view is that [ESA] should not have confirmed the selection of Beagle 2, given the failure of the project to comply with the recommendations of the [peer review committee which originally examined the lander proposal],' states the report.
'The lack of guaranteed funding for Beagle 2 during its early stages seriously hindered the orderly build-up of the project engineering team, with the consequence that the design and development activities were delayed, exacerbating an already critical schedule,' it continues.
The report identifies further key errors that undermined the mission from the outset. As well as the lack of structured financing, the report cites the treatment of Beagle 2 as a 'scientific instrument', rather than a spacecraft in its own right, as a fundamental error that led to 'many subsequent problems'.
The report also concludes that the task of managing such a mission was probably too big for the Open University team from the UK that developed the lander. 'Beagle 2 should have been recognised as a complex, innovative spacecraft requiring management by an organisation with relevant experience - this was likely to be beyond the capability of a university-led group.'
Finally, the report also criticises ESA and the British government for not managing expectations surrounding the mission more realistically. 'It should have been made clear to all stakeholders, including the public, that the risk of failure was significantly higher than had been anticipated,' it concludes.
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