Upgraded craft could join Aurora project after first failure is blamed on faulty parachute

The UK Beagle 2 team wants its proposed next-generation lander to be part of the European Space Agency's Aurora programme.

The team is pushing for ESA's Mars exploration project to make use of its changed design, based on lessons learned from the first Beagle 2 lander's failure, said lead scientist Professor Colin Pillinger speaking in London at the Beagle 2 and Beyond conference on 8 March. Contact was lost with the first Beagle 2 on 25 December 2003 after suspected parachute failure (Flight International, 3-9 February). Aurora is ESA's 30-year plan for robotic - and eventually manned - exploration of the Moon and Mars.

The original Beagle 2 mission's chief engineer, Jim Clemmet, says that the second mission, which would be launched in October 2007 for a 2008 landing, will incorporate "some changes to the detailed design of the probe to remove some of the weaknesses we perceived it had. But this is mature technology [we want to add]."

Clemmet says the changed design would include a cluster of parachutes, rather than one. This would improve the parachute's ability to cope with changing atmospheric conditions. A wider heat shield would also aid entry into the atmosphere. An entry, descent and landing communications system is to be added to enable the probe's final minutes to be tracked. For landing the airbags would be changed to single-bounce landing "dead beat" airbags, which have been used on pilot survival systems in bomber aircraft. An external antenna is to be added for communicating with Earth just after landing.

Once on the surface, the "folding petal" photovoltaic system would be replaced by inflatable solar arrays and the lid that Beagle would have used to right itself is no longer present. Science systems, such as the robotic arm with the instrument package on the end, will now sweep out sideways from recess positions in what is the new lander's upper half.

The Aurora programme does not have a Beagle 2-like mission. Franco Ongaro, head of Aurora, admitted at the same conference that his programme could change, because of ESA's interest in a partnership in the Bush administration's new space vision. The implementation of that vision depends on the US Congress voting in September to fund recommendations from a commission set up to study how Bush's space plans can be achieved.


Source: Flight International