I Wouldn't Send a Dog Out on a Night Like This!

A major problem for spacecraft is the ability to regulate their temperature in such a way as to not damage the sensitive equipment aboard.

The Beagle 2 mission to Mars should have operated in some of the best weather available on the planet. Its landing site, near to the relatively warm equator, during the planet's Spring on December 25th (the timing of seasons depends on the direction of tilt of a planet's axis and its position in its orbit and so are not the same as the Earth's) gives the most favourable weather on Mars. In spite of this, night time temperatures drop to –70 °C, nearly cold enough to start freezing the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (-78 °C). A number of the experiments on Beagle 2, such as the environmental monitoring equipment, needed to work continuously. Other experiments could only be done during the Martian night. As a result of this Beagle 2 (as with MOST other spacecraft including NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers; ”Spirit” and “Opportunity”) needed to charge up a set of batteries from solar cells during the day and use the stored energy at night. Unfortunately the ability of batteries to supply energy is severely impaired by low temperatures and in the very cold conditions of the Martian night the batteries could be permanently damaged.

Students are given the challenge of producing a solution to the thermal management problem of Beagle 2 assuming they are preparing for a re-flight of the probe. A number of different methods of assessing their solutions can be used depending on the resources available in your school and the ability range of the students.

 

Relevance:

KS 2

Sci 3.1 b) Some materials are better thermal insulators than others.

KS 3

Sci 4.5 d) The distinction between temperature and heat, and that differences in temperature can lead to the transfer of energy.

Sci 4.5 f) How energy is transferred by the movement of particles in conduction, convection and evaporation, and that energy is transferred directly by radiation.

KS 4

Sci 4.1 a) That resistors are heated when charge flows through them

Sci 4.5 a) How insulation is used to reduce transfer of energy from hotter to colder objects.

AQA GCSE science syllabus A & B

Edexcel GCSE science syllabus A (P5)

Edexcel GCSE science syllabus B (5)

OCR GCSE science syllabus A 4.2.11

OCR GCSE science syllabus B (PD2)

OCR GCSE science syllabus C 4.5.1

 

Resources

Teacher's Information Sheet

Student's Worksheet

Beagle's Solution

 

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