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NASA's Broken Planet-hunter Spacecraft Given Second Life

Soulskill posted about 5 months ago | from the right-on dept.

Space 55

coondoggie writes "NASA today said it would fund the technology fixes required to make its inoperative Kepler space telescope active again and able to hunt for new planets and galaxies. Kepler, you may recall, was rendered inoperable after the second of four gyroscope-like reaction wheels, which are used to precisely point the spacecraft for extended periods of time, failed last year, ending data collection for the original mission. The spacecraft required three working wheels to maintain the precision pointing necessary to detect the signal of small Earth-sized exoplanets."

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So uhh... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47019655)

Its now a shitty avatar trying to lure younsters?

5 year mission (4, Funny)

Noah Haders (3621429) | about 5 months ago | (#47019667)

did it at least complete its five year mission to explore strange new worlds?

Re:5 year mission (2)

bobbied (2522392) | about 5 months ago | (#47019961)

Initially the mission was 3.5 years, but technical problems caused an increase in the necessary time to complete it's goals to 5 years. These problems where not directly related to the reaction wheels.

Seems that the spacecraft survived in functional condition for the 3.5 years initially required, although with a number of failures. It made it long enough for the initial mission length, but didn't survive another 1.5 years because too many of the reaction wheels failed.

So, I'm not sure what you mean about the 5 year mission....

Re:5 year mission (4, Funny)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about 5 months ago | (#47020033)

<Enterprise flyby> Voosh. <Star Trek theme>

Re:5 year mission (4, Funny)

bobbied (2522392) | about 5 months ago | (#47020209)

OH!

Yea, I missed that one.... Whoosh over my head.

Beam me up Scotty, no intelligent life here..

Re:5 year mission (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47020109)

So, I'm not sure what you mean about the 5 year mission....

GP was a fan of Star Trek (original series and/or next generation). You, apparently, were not.

Re:5 year mission (2)

arth1 (260657) | about 5 months ago | (#47021155)

The Original Series only. In The Next Generation, "five-year mission" had been replaced with "continuing mission".

Re:5 year mission (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47021187)

Yeah, but they only made it 7 before they crashed the ship.

Re:5 year mission (1)

Cpt_Kirks (37296) | about 5 months ago | (#47021205)

Not their fault. Their engineer fell for some hot Klingon chicks.

Re:5 year mission (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47023935)

In Voyager, the engineer WAS a Klingon chick!

Re:5 year mission (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 5 months ago | (#47021427)

Kirk only read an early draft of the mission: "five year mission to explore strange new bodies". He happily complied.

Re:5 year mission (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47022963)

Are you sure Woodbury University would help this cause?

Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that failed (4, Informative)

Squidlips (1206004) | about 5 months ago | (#47019713)

From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UTC_Aerospace_Systems): "Ithaco became notable for having manufactured the reaction wheels of the Kepler spacecraft, the Hayabusa spacecraft, the Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) satellite and the Dawn spacecraft, which developed problems or even failed" May its name live in infamy. http://science.slashdot.org/st... [slashdot.org]

Re:Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that faile (3, Insightful)

i kan reed (749298) | about 5 months ago | (#47019869)

Is this: "crappy company delivers badly on contracts" or "company specializes in class of components that have a relatively high failure rate"?

Re:Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that faile (5, Informative)

decsnake (6658) | about 5 months ago | (#47020153)

Is this: "crappy company delivers badly on contracts" or "company specializes in class of components that have a relatively high failure rate"?

While RWs are way more complex than you would probably guess and have a history of failures across the industry, I still think in this case it is the former rather than the latter. After it started looking looking like there were systemic problems with Ithaco wheels, we developed our own wheels in-house. They haven't been perfect but there have been no mission ending problems with ours (so far; knocking on wood etc), unlike the Ithaco wheels.

Re:Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that faile (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 5 months ago | (#47020183)

Thanks. Context always helps with these things.

Re:Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that faile (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47021783)

Mission ending in space != mission ending in a lab.

Re:Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that faile (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47019933)

To be fair these are moving parts in space. If it can break it will.

Re:Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that faile (1)

pr0t0 (216378) | about 5 months ago | (#47019977)

Ask yourself why an antenna won't deploy on a deep-space probe. Or ask how they could launch a $6 billion telescope without testing its mirror.
--The Arrival

Re:Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that faile (0)

Squidlips (1206004) | about 5 months ago | (#47020081)

You mean the "testing' of the Hubble mirror by the manufacturer (Corning glass?) in which profit was more important than quality?

Re:Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that faile (1)

khallow (566160) | about 5 months ago | (#47021175)

It's worth noting here that the mirror was of exceptional quality just ground to a very precise, wrong shape. By putting in a corrective lens, they were able to recover to close to its original specifications.

Also, NASA was involved in the screw up as well, and that involvement definitely was not profit-driven.

Re:Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that faile (1)

tomhath (637240) | about 5 months ago | (#47022921)

They didn't scrimp on testing the mirror; grinding, polishing, and testing was done completely to spec - they thought. The problem was that the instrument used to measure the curvature malfunctioned during the polishing step, resulting in the aberration.

Re:Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that faile (1)

Isaac-1 (233099) | about 5 months ago | (#47023723)

Correction here someone put a washer on a rod in the wrong place bewteen the opitical elements while assembling a measuring template device used in place of proper full diamter optical testing.

Re:Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that faile (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47020371)

NASA approves the testing methods of its contracts. They don't just accept parts blindly.

Re:Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that faile (2)

arth1 (260657) | about 5 months ago | (#47021217)

NASA approves the testing methods of its contracts.

I am sure they do. But the question to ask is:

How often do they disapprove the testing methods of their contractors?

 

They don't just accept parts blindly.

I'm sure that the pressure to go forward without delays and extra costs is non-existent too.

Re:Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that faile (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47020681)

These two examples are much different than a vendor manufacturing parts with a high rate of failure.

Re:Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that faile (1)

pr0t0 (216378) | about 5 months ago | (#47020945)

I think all the respondents to my comment missed the last line: "--The Arrival".

This is a quote from the movie The Arrival. It was meant as a joke to imply that whenever anything goes wrong with our remote-sensing spacecraft, it's because aliens have sabotaged the effort so they are not found.

Closed in 2012/2013 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47020117)

Re:Closed in 2012/2013 (1)

Squidlips (1206004) | about 5 months ago | (#47020351)

That is a good way for the CEO to slink away from responsibility....

Re:Closed in 2012/2013 (1)

tomhath (637240) | about 5 months ago | (#47021487)

They didn't have enough work to keep the people employed. I wouldn't call that slinking away from responsibility.

Re:Ithaco Space Systems made the wheels that faile (1)

khallow (566160) | about 5 months ago | (#47021207)

Why are you badmouthing this company? Their gyroscopes would have failed sooner or later. They did so later and the spacecraft exceeded by a little its original design lifetime. The mission lasted just over four years till the second gyro failure as compared to its design lifetime of 3.5 years.

Broken planet hunter (1)

RandomUsername99 (574692) | about 5 months ago | (#47019871)

It's only hunting for broken planets?

Re:Broken planet hunter (3, Funny)

cream wobbly (1102689) | about 5 months ago | (#47020235)

Look down.

(As in toward the nearest gravitational object.)

Re:Broken planet hunter (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47021333)

All I see is your big fat momma.

Re:Broken planet hunter (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 5 months ago | (#47021443)

"Wait, that's no moon!..."

What a waste of NASA funds! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47019983)

Why would they install Second Life onto a spacecraft? That's just asking for trouble!

I'm curious why (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 5 months ago | (#47020049)

...it would not be possible to robotically attach new, external reaction wheels. It's a telescope, it has direction, could you not design something to attach externally and provide reaction control?

Re:I'm curious why (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47020215)

Lack of integration points, but I'm guessing money

I mean, it might cut into the military air conditioning budget

Re:I'm curious why (1)

queazocotal (915608) | about 5 months ago | (#47020309)

It's not in low earth orbit.
Technically there isn't a real reason why.
The problems basically boil down to it'd be too expensive to do it well.
And that there is very interesting science to be done on the follow-on mission.

The 'technology fixes' referred to are not hardware.
They are instead of operating it pointed all the time at the normal bit of sky - which it can do, but now with two wheels only at ruinous cost in fuel - to instead point it at some point along the solar system equator.
It can do this for up to 80 days at a time, before the sun gets too close to the imager.
There are all sorts of interesting things it can do when pointed at these targets. The 'usual' planet hunting - though restricted in the case of single 80 day campaigns to finding planets of under 80 days orbit.
Studies of microlensing, ...

The bits of sky it can look at - near the galactic core - for example are very different to the Kepler Field - where all the planetary discoveries so far have been.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G... [wikipedia.org] is a fascinating follow-on of sorts.
This will scan a billion stars over 5 years.
It will detect some massive planets -

Re:I'm curious why (1)

Bengie (1121981) | about 5 months ago | (#47020905)

I thought part of the reason it was so far out was to make it so it wasn't moving(relatively speaking) and to remove light from the Earth and Moon.

Re:I'm curious why (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 5 months ago | (#47021725)

I wonder if it would be economical to create a semi-standard repair-kit satellite, for mass production, that could repair or supplement failing satellites using boost assist, stabilizer assist, power supplements, computational supplements/replacements, etc.

It may require standardized ports and latches on the primary satellites, though, for hooking into and/or grappling.

Call the mission "MacSkyver".

Re:I'm curious why (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about 5 months ago | (#47021825)

the Kepler craft isn't an earth orbiting satellite, it's WAY out there 11 million miles away (and getting further all the time) orbiting the Sun every 375 days

Re:I'm curious why (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47023231)

The problem is that launch and development costs are still large parts of the cost compared to just the hardware, and if you want some redundancy it would in many cases be cheaper to just build several identical satellites. Although by the time repairs need to be done, tech advances enough that researchers would sometimes prefer just spending the money on a newer satellite instead of fixing an older one.

Re:I'm curious why (2)

iggymanz (596061) | about 5 months ago | (#47021795)

it's not in high earth orbit either, or any other kind of Earth orbit. it is orbiting the Sun in an Earth-trailing orbit. That's REALLY a whole 'nother kettle of fish for sending any kind of repair mission.

Re:I'm curious why (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47021563)

Nothing to attach to, no power supply, no connection to the computers. Other than that it should work.

Ithaco background (2)

Squidlips (1206004) | about 5 months ago | (#47020125)

This looks pretty bad for Ithaco: http://www.nature.com/news/the... [nature.com] : "ball bearings, which had already shown signs of pitting" BEFORE THE LAUNCH!!!!

Re:Ithaco background (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47024039)

This looks pretty bad for Ithaco:
http://www.nature.com/news/the... [nature.com] :

"ball bearings, which had already shown signs of pitting" BEFORE THE LAUNCH!!!!

Well, it WAS the lowest bid after all. ;)

Worse than Dilithium crystals (1)

eclectro (227083) | about 5 months ago | (#47020955)

Ever notice that original Star Trek for some reason never seemed to have enough or any Dilithium crystals on hand? Our space telescopes seem to have the same exact problem.

Solution, why couldn't these telescopes launch with a few more gyroscopes held in reserve so that when one fails, another one is ready to take its place?

Re:Worse than Dilithium crystals (2)

Cpt_Kirks (37296) | about 5 months ago | (#47021215)

Weight.

They had a spare (1)

bussdriver (620565) | about 5 months ago | (#47022483)

They usually have backups where it is possible; notice they said 4 but only need 3.

Given how many people thought Star Trek was too slow (helping produce the modern abomination) you want them to spend EXTRA time explaining all the spares and reserves are gone? (they do sometimes mention reserve and backups) Given the whole point of it was to push the plot forward it wouldn't matter if they have 50 spares because they'd all have to fail to create the crisis.

Re:Worse than Dilithium crystals (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 5 months ago | (#47023669)

They did. It could compensate for a failed wheel, but it needed three to stay functional. It's got less than three, and is thus broken.

What you should be asking instead is: Considering how much we dump into the Military Industrial Complex for "protection", why doesn't NASA have the funding for at least three or four of each type of satellite -- scan more sky in less time. I mean, just consider that the Chelyabinsk Meteor was ~25x Hiroshima (bonus: No long lasting ionizing radiation). Now, why the hell aren't we firmly establishing self sustaining off-world footholds? Whomever rules the Asteroid Belt rules the Solar System.

The only thing I can think of is that our lunar visits may have prompted the Aliens to contact our world leaders. The think tanks would have convened and figured out: If the Aliens share tech with us the current rich folks won't be rich anymore. Eg: "Gold's valuable? Oh they probably have a machine that produces Gold from sand", etc. Thus the greedy refused to the treaty and told the Aliens to piss off when it became clear the tech would be available to everyone, not just the elites. As a stipulation of being left alone the Aliens declared that human life must not spread to other planets, and humanity will be doomed to die when the sun explodes, a big rock strikes, or gamma ray bursts in our direction, etc., whatever comes first. Thus humans haven't been back to the moon or left the magnetosphere in over 40 years since, and we have no defense against celestial scale projectile or energy weapons.

Now space travel is becoming accessible via the private sector, and projects like Mars One could be more disastrous than just for the volunteers, but the governments can't say anything to dissuade them or else the public would eject their greedy leaders and negotiate with the Aliens directly. So, either the end times will soon be upon us, OR, space agency spending is simply allocated by morons who like to flirt with extinction. Either way, the situation is pretty grim.

Funding for operations, but not science (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47021049)

It's great for NASA that Kepler will continue operating in the ecliptic plane, where the newly discovered exoplanets might also see the Earth transit the Sun!

The bad news behind the headline is that Kepler's second life will be "community driven", which is a polite way of saying there is essentially no funding for science, just operations. The Senior Review Panel report [nasa.gov] (pdf) notes:

"The operation of the nation's space borne observatories is so severely impacted by the current funding climate in Washington that ... American pre-eminence in the study of the Universe from space is threatened to the point of irreparable damage if additional funds cannot be found to fill the projected funding gaps."

The response from NASA [nasa.gov] (pdf) acknowledges:

"The Kepler mission extension is approved for FY 2015-FY 2016 for K2 operations at a 10-percent reduction from the requested level; the full request cannot be accommodated within the constrained budget conditions."

If you love what Kepler has done, you can help support some of the scientists behind the discoveries through their Non-profit Adopt a Star [whitedwarf.org] program.

"----": 3D? We ain't need no stinkin' 3D! (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 5 months ago | (#47021501)

Due to failure of the 2nd gyroscope, it can only find long, flat planets with names like "Pizza Centauri C", Pizza the Hut's home.

   

Kepler Spacecraft Given Second Life: (1)

Hartree (191324) | about 5 months ago | (#47021847)

Does Linden Lab know about this?

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