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Home | 2016 | October


Posted by Thersites on UTC 2016-10-20 10:52. Updated on UTC 2016-11-11

This month's snowflake was fretting about the 'terror' of the six minute wait while Schiaparelli – the 'Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module' (EDM) – of the European Space Agency's ExoMars project was hurtling towards the Martian surface. His fingers would be crossed, he told us.

He'll need a better superstition. Schiaparelli seemingly did not survive those six minutes. Another Beagle 2 it seems.

Schiaparelli imagined on the surface. Image: ESA

The confidence in the success of the mission at ESA was not high, despite all those crossed fingers: the lander was carrying no instruments worth the name and had no solar panels, relying instead on batteries that would only last a few days. Schiaparelli was a 600 kg (dis)proof of a landing concept. The clue is in the module's name: the 'Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module'. Here on Earth that concept would be called 'fly-tipping': depositing junk in inaccessible locations. Better not ask what it cost.

Schiaparelli: Landing Concept. Image: ESA

It really doesn't look good for the ESA, what with the loss of Beagle 2 and now Schiaparelli (made in Italy). We should also note that the Rosetta mission got spectacularly close to a comet, but the lander concept also failed.

In the same period in which the cultured Europeans have been crossing their fingers and decorating the surface of Mars and an innocent comet with failed technojunk, those illiterate, monolingual, culturally defective, Trump-voting, lardbutt Amis at NASA put the rovers Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity on the surface, as well as the static lander Phoenix. All these modules not only landed safely but carried out their missions far beyond their planned lifetimes.

The last three are still operational, which fact being a good opportunity to add Randall Munroe's clever and deservedly famous cartoon about Spirit, the first rover (we on this blog are even prepared to praise deluded CAGW alarmists when they get something right, as Munroe often does).

On January 26th, 2213 days into its mission, NASA declared Spirit a 'stationary research station', expected to operational for several more months until the dust buildup on its solar panels forces a final shutdown.

Even Munroe's cartoon seems grown-up when compared with the first-person tweeting in which ESA indulges in the name of its inanimate objects. Pathetic fallacy, anyone? Image: Spirit Randall Munroe,

Epilogue just in

ESA press release 'It’s what we want from a test' – err, that it goes wrong. Always look on the bright side.

“Following yesterday’s events we have an impressive orbiter around Mars ready for science and for relay support for the ExoMars rover mission in 2020,” said Jan Wörner, ESA’s Director General. “Schiaparelli’s primary role was to test European landing technologies. Recording the data during the descent was part of that, and it is important we can learn what happened, in order to prepare for the future.”

“In terms of the Schiaparelli test module, we have data coming back that allow us to fully understand the steps that did occur, and why the soft landing did not occur,” David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration.

“From the engineering standpoint, it’s what we want from a test, and we have extremely valuable data to work with. We will have an enquiry board to dig deeper into the data and we cannot speculate further at this time.”

Update 11.11.2016

Plucky little Beagle 2!

The attempt of the fans of the failed Beagle 2 Mars lander to demonstrate that it oh so very nearly worked and was therefore not, like, a TOTAL failure continue.

'Failed Beagle 2 lander DID open up on Mars: The lost probe deployed at least three solar panels before cutting out', we are told.

Beagle 2 reconstruction, straight from the shed

A reconstruction of the Beagle 2 lander, showing us how it looked fresh from the shed where it was constructed and before its heroic flight to oblivion on the Red Planet.

Unfortunately, the brilliant design folded the solar panels over the radio aerial. If one failed to deploy then no communication would be possible and the entire mission would fail. Which is what happened, it now seems.

European designed landers always seem to have no built-in redundancy. On Beagle 2, if one panel out of four fails to deploy, the mission is a complete failure. On the Philae lander of the Rosetta mission, the failure of the harpoon that was supposed to attach the lander to the comet meant the complete failure of the lander. On the Schiaparelli lander, so we are now told, a 'communications problem' between the computer and the altimeter caused the lander to crash: 'everything worked' – the heat shield, the parachute, the retro-rockets – just not at the right time.

All the complicated and expensive technology on each these devices is held together by a chain of hopes, optimism and, ultimately, 'crossed fingers'.

The researchers believe that one of the panels failing to open properly could have been enough to interfere with the radio antenna being able to send back a signal.

'For an as yet unconfirmed and undetected reason it failed to communicate following landing, although incomplete deployment for an unknown reason continues to be the likely primary cause, particularly in the case of three panel deployment where the RF antenna would be unable to transmit through the fourth un-deployed panel.'

The evidence that the last of the four solar panels on Beagle 2 failed to deploy itself requires some suspension of belief. Here are the photos:

Beagle 2 on Mars (presumably).
Top: Photographs from NASA at various sun angles.
Middle: left, the photo; right, the 'improved' photo.
Bottom: Just in case we thicko non-scientists cannot understand the improved photo, here is an even more improved graphic from De Montfort University. Clear, now?

The team adds: 'Further analysis of the Beagle 2 images using the technique, subject to additional funding and ideally other images at a variety of sun angles, might further define the configuration of the 1st[sic] UK ESA lander to land on Mars.'

The patriotic strings of the money lyre are plucked so that we can 'further define the configuration' of the first 'UK ESA lander to land on Mars'. Well, land it did, but not in any useful way. Do we really need to spend a pile of money to find out the precise manner of its uselessness?

That the Beagle 2 team is still flag-waving the concept of a 'UK ESA lander' is actually quite depressing: it seems the ghost of Colin Pillinger (hubris-nemesis) is still floating around somewhere in Leicester.

We might have a little more respect for this outfit – not much, though – if they had only credited properly the people who took the pictures of poor little Beagle 2's grave: NASA. You know, those Trump-loving American idiots who already put three self-propelled landers on Mars.