Bad maths led to fiery doom for Beagle 2 in 2003

December 18th, 2008 - 4:11 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Dec 18 (ANI): An Australian team of hypersonics engineers has suggested that a flawed calculation probably resulted in Beagle 2 tumbling out of control as it descended in 2003.

According to a report in New Scientist, mystery surrounds the loss of contact with the Beagle 2 spacecraft, which had entered the Martian atmosphere on Christmas Day 2003.

Until now, the loss of the probe has been attributed to the general failings of a poorly funded mission.

Despite an exhaustive enquiry by the European Space Agency, no single cause for the loss of the 50 million dollars spacecraft has been identified.

Beagle 2 was designed to self-stabilise during its descent through the Martian atmosphere.
This was to be achieved through careful design of the spacecraft’’s aerodynamics and centre of gravity, and by spinning the craft as it was released from the European Space Agencys Mars Express orbiter.

This generated a gyroscopic force for correcting wobbles as it descended.

The ideal spin rate was difficult to determine because the forces on a spacecraft change sharply as it plunges from the thin upper atmosphere to the denser gas closer to the surface.

The Beagle 2 team simulated the forces in both these regimes but could not afford to simulate the way the forces change during the transition between the two.

Instead, they estimated the forces using a mathematical process called a bridging function, and settled on a rate of 14 revolutions per minute.

After Beagle 2s disappearance, hypersonics experts Michael Macrossan and Madhat Abdel-Jawad at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, simulated the transition.

They reckon it is now clear that Beagle 2 was spinning too fast.

The spin rate would have corrected any problems in the thin upper atmosphere but as the atmosphere thickened, it would have worked against the self-stabilising aerodynamic forces the craft was generating.

As a result, the spacecraft probably tumbled out of control and burned up just seconds after dropping into the atmosphere.

The spin rate was just too high, said Abdel-Jawad. It counteracted the stabilisation youd expect, he added.

The Mars probe probably burned up seconds after entering the atmosphere.

According to Colin Pillinger, the planetary scientist at the UKs Open University, Milton Keynes, who led the Beagle 2 team, Its an interesting analysis and we are going to run their figures through our own model to see if they are right. (ANI)

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