Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
5 JULY 2004
Q1 Chairman: Thank you very, very much
for coming along. Beagle has fascinated us all for some time and
we are very interested in asking you a few questions about the
project and the future and so on. Thank you all for coming, because
I know you have all played a major part in the project. It is
not our remit, although some Ministers might like it, to go out
to Mars as a committee and look for the thing; we are not trying
to find Beagle or anything like that or exactly why it failed
really. We have seen the report of the commission of inquiry and
looked at the issue through that. We understand the restrictions
that are placed on parts of that. We are really interested, as
guardians of the public money, as a select committee, to know
how it was used in support of the project, looking at how any
similar missions might be supported by the government in the future,
the lessons to learn, the research community in future that would
be involved in it, and what we have found out. We know of course
that Beagle 3 is being talked about, so that will also be part
of our inquiry and our questioning. Thank you very, very much
for coming. We will try to keep our questions short, so that it
gives you all a chance to give short answers. Do you agree with
the former UK representative at ESA, Paul Murdin, when he said
that the Government did all the right things for Beagle? Colin,
would you like to take that?
Professor Pillinger: I think the
Government supported us very well after we managed to persuade
them it was worth supporting us.
Q2 Chairman: How did you persuade them,
Professor Pillinger: I was absolutely
convinced that the science was world-class, and of course I had
20 years of background on which I had built it. It would have
been very easy to accept a Government "sorry, there are not
any funds available for this" in 1997, when I first went
to them. Many other projects have been told that there are no
funds in the budget, and that is true because these missions are
put together years in advanceso they did need persuading.
Q3 Chairman: The money dribbled out,
did it not; it did not come in one big cheque or one big hand-out?
Do you think that made a difference to the success of the project?
Professor Pillinger: It would
have been nice to have had the money all at the beginning.
Q4 Chairman: Did you ask for it?
Professor Pillinger: No, we never
asked for all the money at once.
Q5 Chairman: Why not? I would have.
Professor Pillinger: Because we
believed that if we asked for a large sum of money all in one
tranche, we would have been told "no". We did try to
convince them a little bit at a time; and of course there was
a difficulty in that nobody ever believed that they carried the
entire budget for a project like this. The industrial partners
would never be funded by PPARC, in the same way as the scientists
would never be funded by the DTI; so we tried to put this thing
together in bits, ourselves at the OU, then to AstriumMMS
as it was.
Q6 Chairman: So if I said you were cobbling
it all together, would that be a fair description?
Professor Pillinger: I would not
use the word "cobbled", but
Q7 Chairman: What would you say?
Professor Pillinger: We did try
to put it together bit by bit, like a jigsaw puzzle, including
Q8 Chairman: Would any other panellist
like to add to that in any way, as to how they saw the contribution
by the Government to the project? How would you describe it in
your lighter moments?
Dr Healy: The approach to the
funding overall was probably more innovative than the project
team would have liked. We would have liked a much simpler structure,
where there was one big cheque written at the start of the day,
and we could have got on with the programme. That is the way that
future programmes need to go down. There was an awful lot of goodwill
to try to make the programme happen, despite the relative lack
of budgets that were in place at the time.
Q9 Chairman: Mike? I know that you are
a former director but you were there at the time.
Mr Rickett: I would say that it
would have been probably quite difficult for us to have formulated
on day one a clear picture of exactly the way the programme was
going, and therefore the full extent of the funding that was ultimately
required to do the job. There was an element of chicken-and-egg
about it; we had to spend at least some time during the early
parts of the programme working out within the partnership just
how we would mount this mission and how we would go forward with
it. In all of that time, I believe that we had government on side,
and it was very positive and constructive in its support to us.
Q10 Chairman: In your darkest moments,
you did not worry that it might not all go right, in terms of
the money coming forward, and as partners in it you had thought,
"this is a risk"?
Mr Rickett: Absolutely. It was
always a big risk, but we were certainly convinced as a team that
we had something special here, and that ultimately we would win
through in terms of funding.
Dr Sims: Beagle was a unique opportunity
and that is why we agree with the comments of the two Mikes before
me: we believed in the end goal, and it took some time to convince
people that the funding should be there. The problem of course
is that Mars Express happened on a very rapid timescale outside
the normal timescales of projects of five to 10 years.
Q11 Mr Key: Why were the lander and orbiter
missions not managed as one project?
Professor Pillinger: It is traditional
that national contributions are made in terms of instruments.
This is the way in which ESA has always operated, and ESA has
learnt that this is a mistake. The team always believed that we
were making a spacecraft and not an instrument. It was far more
complicated than an instrument.
Q12 Mr Key: What efforts did you make
to try and persuade ESA to take on the management and oversight
of the lander or of parts of the Beagle 2 project?
Professor Pillinger: I do not
think we ever tried to have them take on the entire management.
I did offer them the chance to manage the entry descent and landing
system because that was causing a considerable amount of concern
Q13 Mr Key: Do you think they have the
management expertise to manage such a project?
Professor Pillinger: They do have
the management expertise. I do not see any difference between
Astrium managing a lander if the Open University is the customer,
or Astrium managing a lander if the European Space Agency is the
Q14 Mr Key: Do you think the chances
of success would have been improved if ESA had been managing the
Professor Pillinger: No, I do
not. I think the chances of success would have been improved had
we been treated at the same level as all the other instruments
on Mars Express, but we always knew from day one that Beagle was
considered as an add-on to the project. It was described as "the
cherry on the cake" on a number of occasions. One has to
remember that the instruments that were aboard Mars Express had
already been lost once, so the European Space Agency were rather
concerned that they not be lost again, and therefore the instruments
on the orbiter were the priority, as opposed to the lander, which
was considered as an add-on.
Q15 Mr Key: Would anyone like to add
Mr Rickett: I guess the question
infers that ESA were not involved with the programme to some extent.
It certainly was the case that they were not remote from it. They
had residents within our team, who worked very closely alongside
us, and we worked very closely with John Credland, who was the
then head of the science programmes. He was part of the steering
group that met on a regular basis to oversee the way in which
the programme was running. They were certainly involved with it
and were not remote from it.
Q16 Mr Key: Dr Sims, why were relations
with Astrium Toulouse different?
Dr Sims: This comes back to the
fact that the Mars Express was originally conceived as an orbiter-only
mission. It relates to some of the comments that have just been
made in that ESA's priority was to recover the science and the
instruments that had been lost on Mars 96. Therefore the lander
was there as an option, and, I believe, in the initial invitation
to tender to industry it was described as an option. Astrium Toulouse
had the job of delivering the orbiter. I would have to consult
my Astrium colleagues to know whether it was a fixed price contract
or whatever, but their job was to deliver the orbiter to the specification.
Consequently, they took the route of defining the interfaces on
Beagle very early in the programme because they had to, in order
to progress their orbiter. That gave us a distinct problem in
that in the January 1999 kick-off meeting we were still in a phase
of deciding what the envelope of Beagle 2 was. We already knew
the mass had to be 60 kilos, and there was some uncertainty at
that stage in our design; and we also knew the volume constraints
because Beagle had to be designed so that it would not interfere
with any of the Mars Express instruments if for any reason we
did not eject. I think it was a management decision by Astrium
Toulouse to force us to keep to our interfaces.
Q17 Mr Key: Dr Sims, why was the interface
between the two parts of Astrium so poor?
Dr Sims: I really do not know,
is the honest answer.
Q18 Mr Key: Would you agree that they
Dr Sims: I would not say they
were very poor; I would say there was a difference in priority.
UK Astrium was concerned with the lander and Astrium France was
concerned with the orbiter.
Q19 Paul Farrelly: Professor Pillinger,
you referred to concerns when you spoke about the entry of landing
systems. Can you say what those concerns were, and be precise
as to who held those concerns?
Professor Pillinger: The concerns
over the entry descent and landing system emerged when ESA, together
with NASAit was a panel chaired by a man called John Casanilooked
at the whole project in September 2000. Only the USA had managed
to land successfully on Mars, and they had a similar system on
Pathfinder. We were actually using the same company that had supplied
to Pathfinder; nevertheless, the NASA reviewers, who had intimate
inside knowledgeremember everything in this area is covered
by ITAR, International Restrictions on Armshad detailed
information inside and they felt that we did not have an adequate
testing programme. They voiced this concern at the review report,
which said the project was eminently do-able, but that we should
have help with the mass money and the entry descent and landing