As business development manager for Logica CMG's Space and Defence Division, Pat Norris has been charged with creating the IT infrastructure for some of Europe's more exotic public and private sector projects.
ZDNet UK caught up with Norris to discuss the UK integrator's role in the ill-fated Mars probe Beagle 2, a separate Saturn mission and the politically tense Galileo project -- a European civilian rival to the US military's GPS system.
How big is the Space and Defence Division of Logica?
We've got somewhere around 150 to 200 staff; Logica CMG as a whole has around 20,000. But Space and Defence is definitely a growth area. There have been lots of big projects recently because the Ministry of Defence is spending a lot of money on digitisation. Space is also growing but there are a smaller number of projects in space.
Logica was involved in providing a lot of the software for the Beagle 2 project, including programs that support the probe's communication with Earth. The mission failed to accomplish its objectives but are there any positive lessons you can take from the experience?
The jury is out. How many people knew a year ago that Britain was able to do this kind of thing - even consider building a probe capable of landing on Mars. But I hope people will almost begin to take for granted that we are capable of creating our own space vehicles.
Is there no way to spot Beagle from earth or from one of the US probes?
It's like searching for a needle in a haystack. If the parachute splayed out nicely it might just be possible to pick it out -- maybe two or three pixels.
What are your thoughts on what went wrong with Beagle?
I don't know. There are so many ways - it could have been a sharp rock that punctured the landing bags. It could be something as trivial as that. There needed to be more redundancy. Like the thing about the sharp stone. Beagle was covered in three rubber balloons; if one burst, it fell. The US had nine or more, so if one burst, then it's still enough to save it. They had more redundancy -- mainly because they had more weight allowance and more money.
Noises have been made about there being a Beagle 3 mission. Have you heard anything about that?
I think it will be a while. We need to wait till they've tried everything on Beagle 2. The European Space Agency (ESA) is set to have some kind of review board. No one is going to commit to anything until there is some kind of post-mortem. If the UK is involved -- I'd hope we'd be part of it.
There is another planetary probe that we were involved with which will land on Titan - one of Saturn's moons - in 11 months time. It's been travelling for seven years. We finished our work on it years ago. It's on board an American probe called Cassini - and the European probe is called Huygens, after the Dutch Astronomer. We are very interested in this area but it's not big business. It's good for publicity and good for attracting people who are interested in exotic problems.