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Space Science

Space Rope Trick Experiment Goes Awry 200

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the harder-than-lassoing-cattle dept.
Tjeerd writes "An experiment that envisaged sending a parcel from space to Earth on a 30-kilometre tether fell short of its goal yesterday when the long fibre rope did not fully unwind, Russian Mission Control said. It was intended to deliver a spherical capsule, called Fotino, attached to the end of the tether back to Earth — a relatively simple and cheap technology that could be used in the future to retrieve bulkier cargoes from space.""
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Space Rope Trick Experiment Goes Awry

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  • Actually... (Score:5, Funny)

    by The_Isle_of_Mark (713212) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:32AM (#20755877)
    I climbed up the rope and hid in my secret magic room until I felt rested. Then, I climbed down and did 10d4 damage to Fotino.
    • Re:Actually... (Score:5, Informative)

      by lexarius (560925) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:48AM (#20756113)
      But where did you put your magic bag while you were in there? It's dangerous to bring those inside, you know.
    • Tether Enabled SSTO (Score:5, Informative)

      by StCredZero (169093) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:49AM (#20756131)
      HASTOL stands for Hypersonic Airplane Space Tether Orbital Launch. This was studied by NASA. We currently have a hard time with a winged craft that can make it to orbit. Space elevators also require "Unobtanium" with unattainably high tensile strengths. But if we combine the two, we get something which is both technically feasible and capable of dirt-cheap earth to orbit. Basically, have an aircraft capable of very high altitude, and about half orbital velocity rendevous with a rotating tether (Rotovator) that can take a cargo the rest of the way to orbit.

      PDF [google.com]
      View as HTML [64.233.169.104]
      More Cosmic Rope Tricks [strangehorizons.com]
      • by GreggBz (777373)
        My first question about this HASTOL was how are you going to anchor the orbiter laying out the rope? Wouldn't it get pulled right back down towards Earth? Then I googled for the documents and read this tidbit,

        Next is the grapple system that will grip the payload from the airplane and hand it over to the tether system. The tether system will rely on Earth's gravity or its electromagnetic energy to slingshot the payload at orbital speeds. This momentum-exchange tether will allow the energy and momentum to be

        • by StCredZero (169093) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:57AM (#20757011)
          Basically, the Rotovator stores kinetic energy which is transferred to the cargo being lifted. The Rotovator can be gradually accelerated back to its former speed by very high efficiency engines, like ion engines. This is much more economical than chemical rockets because: 1) the very high exhaust velocities reduce the fuel required by a couple of order of magnitude and 2) you can refuel periodically using the Rotorvator itself.

          In addition, power can be beamed to the Rotorvator from the earth using lasers or microwaves, which further reduces the weight of the entire system.
  • by Kristoph (242780) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:32AM (#20755885)
    The reason for the problem wasn't immediately clear. "It could be that the tether got stuck," Lyndin said.
    • What thourough analysis? The tether's in outer space inside an unmanned craft. Not like you can just pop the hood and go, "Here's the problem. Looks like a vodka lid got stuck in the gears."
      • by Anonymous Monkey (795756) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:11AM (#20756399)
        I thought it was "ah, I see provlum, wodca lid stuck in gear," and then some kind of wise crack about moose and squirrel.
        • by Amouth (879122)
          as easy as it is to creat a birds nest with line on earth.. god in zero or micro gravity.. it would be a royal pain
      • I get the following:

        The tether was made of Dyneema.

        Wikipedia says this is a synonym for ultra high molecular weight polyethylene

        Regarding the weaknesses of UHMWPE, thermal properties are highlighted and consist of the following:

        The weak bonding between olefin molecules allows local thermal excitations to disrupt the crystalline order of a given chain piece-by-piece, giving it much poorer heat resistance than other high-strength fibers. Its melting point is around 144 to 152 degrees Celsius, a
        • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @01:57PM (#20758637) Homepage
          Ambient "temperature" is somewhat of an abstract concept when there's effectively no atmosphere. What matters most to how warm you are is how much radiation you're absorbing and how much you're radiating. I.e., insulation and color.

          There's no way that they didn't consider the temperature of the tether. You consider the temperature of *everything* that goes into space.

          What probably ruined this experiment is what ruined past experiments: oscillations. You can get axial oscillations from all sorts of sources, even things as little as variations in the speed of the motor can build up because of resonance. There's almost nothing to dampen them. We've had tethers outright snap because of this. We've also had tethers snap because of other things, of course. My "favorite" was the tether whose insulation had tiny pockets of trapped gas that expanded in the vaccum of space. The tether had become very high voltage because of moving through Earth's magnetic field, and the leak of gas allowed it to discharge in a plasma arc that cut the tether in half.

          Not so simple a process as it at first seems.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by RodgerDodger (575834)
          Not really, because temperature in space doesn't work the way you seem to think it does.

          If it's -20C on Earth, a human will lose heat fast. Why? Because the heat will transfer from the person to the surrounding air via conduction.

          In space, there's no air (duh). That means you don't lose heat from conduction - only via radiating. Furthermore, if this experiment was done in sunlight (probably), then rather than losing heat energy, the line would almost certainly have been gaining it.
  • by User 956 (568564) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:33AM (#20755887) Homepage
    An experiment that envisaged sending a parcel from space to Earth on a 30-kilometre tether fell short of its goal yesterday when the long fibre rope did not fully unwind

    So that's how UPS plans on routing packages in the future. Perhaps they realize that the only way to achieve more damage per parcel is to actually drop them from outer space.
    • by Psychor (603391) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:37AM (#20755961) Homepage
      I think even dropping from outer space plus the burns from reentry would still damage a package less than the average UPS delivery. They set a pretty high bar, I'm not sure that mere science is enough to top it.
    • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:38AM (#20755967) Homepage
      Speaking of UPS, what happened to the idea that express parcel companies would be major forces behind private space exploration? In Michael Flynn's novel Firestar [amazon.com] FedEx is one of the first companies to buy private spacecraft because it sees major profits in being able to deliver anywhere on Earth in just a couple of hours. But when you read about private space ventures here on Slashdot, parcel companies don't play any sort of role.
      • by fbjon (692006)
        We order everything on the internets now, duh!
      • what happened to the idea that express parcel companies would be major forces behind private space exploration?
        Other than the obvious reason that the book in question is a work of fiction?

        I'd imagine parcel companies either don't even see it as profitable yet and haven't done any feasibility studies or they have done feasibility studies and it's not worth it yet. FedEx doesn't have to design a plane it just buys one from Boeing or who ever. Maybe it will change when Lockheed make a working commercial space
        • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @02:13PM (#20758785) Homepage
          I had a friend who was a translator for the US military who went over to the USSR (specifically Kazkhstan) as part of a disarmament mission under one of the nuclear disarmament treaties (I forget which one). She often referred to them as somewhat of a scam, as both sides kind of liked the excuse to phase out older systems and create new ones to replace them. Both sides had teams go to inspect and verify the destruction of said systems. They could inspect anything large enough to conceal a "treaty limited item", which really was just used as an excuse to snoop as much as possible. The US side sent their teams over with laser measuring devices; she said that the Russians were really impressed with that, as they had sent their teams over with a much simpler device -- a stick. If it fit, they could inspect.

          Anyways, everything to be destroyed was dismantled and ultimately crushed and scrapped. My friend saw this as somewhat tragic; here were these great feats of engineering that could deliver a payload anywhere on the planet with good accuracy in the matter of time you might spend waiting for a pizza on a busy night, and they were being wasted. Which gave her and some other members of her team an idea; wouldn't that make a great pizza delivery system if it could be retrofit instead? The concept was that you retrofit it with a new heat shield so keep the right temperature for baking, and you put uncooked pizzas in on racks welded into the "warhead". The pizzas bake on reentry, and then it detaches and parachutes down for landing. They even did some off-the-cuff estimates on how much it would cost, and they came up with, if a missile full of pizzas was ordered, a delivery charge of something like then-$20 per pizza -- but what a delivery!

          She claims that she told the idea to a Soviet officer, who looked at her like she was crazy.
      • by Speare (84249) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:51AM (#20756165) Homepage Journal
        A vanishingly small number of situations require a specific material object to cross the globe in a couple hours. The Internet relieves any information hauling needs, and the rise of manufacturing and general ubiquity of export goods has meant that there's probably an identical copy of that object that can be had more locally. So most remaining situations would be fully burdened (not amortized like all 2,000 packages in a neighborhood UPS truck). Now it takes a LOT of energy to get even the smallest object into orbit, ...
        • A vanishingly small number of situations require a specific audio message to cross the globe in a couple tenths of a second. The postal system relieves any written information hauling needs, and the rise of messenger boys has meant that it's easy to send messages that need to be delivered more locally. So most remaining situations would be fully burdened (not amortized like all 2,000 letters in a mail truck). Now it takes a LOT of energy to get even the smallest audio message across the cables.
          • by AvitarX (172628) <me@@@brandywinehundred...org> on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:44AM (#20756873) Journal
            I know your trying to prove a point with a bad analogy, but it is really bad.

            Energy to get information down a gable is not much at all. You are also using an example of information transport (audio) and trying to apply it to physical object transport. The GP's point was that we can transport massive amounts of information in the 3 hours it takes to fly a spaceship across the globe (in said example).

            Also since audio messages are information they are amortized with the millions of web pages sent down cables.

            An example of things not needing to ship quickly follows:

            After 911, MBNA wanted American flags with "God Bless America" to greet all of their workers world wide on the way into the office, this was decided later on in the day on September 11th. We could either print everything locally and ship it out, or get vendors in other parts of the world to print them too. In the past getting people in Dublin to print them would have required shipping negatives (30 years ago) or disks (20? years ago) or Cds (10 - 20 years ago (maybe 15 to 20?). We were able to send the file in an hour and get it produced locally on identical equipment, where previously we would have paid FedEx out the ass (and been delayed however many days for airplane to fly again). Fast physical delivery is far less important than it used to be.
            • I don't know what you thought my point was, but saying that the situation isn't analagous "because we're talking about X, not Y" isn't in general a valid response.

              My point was that quick global transport appears to us now, as the telephone appeared to people in the 1880s. There are even quotes (that I didn't bother to look up) where people question the use of it on the grounds that "we have messenger boys". No one bothers to come up with uses for quick global transport, because it's always been so prohibi
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Orange Crush (934731)

                It's really quite simple. You can have anything delivered, worldwide (in areas with sufficient infrastructure) within 24 hours, often quicker for a (relatively) reasonable price. The faster something gets somewhere offers diminishing returns but exponential increases in cost. Sub-orbital ballistics can theoretically get anything anywhere in about 90 minutes, but at hideously outrageous cost (and in the real world, prep time wipes out any time advantage unless you have the craft & payload on standby a

            • by Rei (128717)
              Sometimes, though, regulations can hold you back.

              A decade ago, I worked at Terre Haute Medlab. We had billing records that needed to be transferred to... I want to say Medicaid, but I don't recall for sure. The center was in Indianapolis. Like most hospitals at the time, we had a nice, fat (for the period) internet pipe. They did too. We could easily have sent them all in short order.

              Nope!

              Government regulations designed decades prior still governed how we were allowed to send data to them, and it forbid
        • A vanishingly small number of situations require a specific material object to cross the globe in a couple hours.

          Are you kidding? If I could get products from China delivered here in the US within hours economically that would be HUGELY beneficial. Long delivery lead times are an enormous cost for a huge variety of products. It takes weeks for a ship to cross the ocean. Cut that to days or hours (at a reasonable cost) and you have altered the global economy forever. That's just products. There is a lo

          • by PitaBred (632671)
            It takes weeks to ship things from China because people don't want to pay the extra to have things flown over. It's not hugely beneficial to have things delivered in hours... it takes a ton of time to get the thing manufactured in the first place (plans, tooling, etc.), a few weeks to save a LOT of money is always worth it. The only time it wouldn't be is with prototypes, but then, why aren't you just making those closer to home, or even having a direct hand in the building of the prototype? The "need" w
            • by hondo77 (324058)

              It takes weeks to ship things from China because people don't want to pay the extra to have things flown over.

              Then again, if I order an iPod directly from Apple, I get free shipping from China and it arrives in just a few days. I suspect my iMac order next month will have the same deal.

            • by sjbe (173966)

              It's not hugely beneficial to have things delivered in hours...

              I'm an industrial engineer and global sourcing is what I do for a living. Yes having things delivered in hours is hugely beneficial, if not always necessary. It's just not usually economically possible for a lot of products. Just-In-Time delivery exists because of the cost of storage and transport are so high for many products, even durable ones. If air transport was anywhere close to as cheap as sea transport, (almost) no one would use boats

              • by Rei (128717)
                If we had better infrastructure, ground transport would be so much faster and cheaper and we wouldn't have to rely on air transport for anywhere that ground connected to. If we were building all of our transportation infrastructure from the ground-up, everything from vehicle design to road construction, why bother with human drivers at all? We could have autoconvoying vehicles moving much faster and taking more efficient routes to their destinations. We could have vehicles getting their power straight fr
      • by eln (21727) * on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:51AM (#20756167) Homepage
        A couple of reasons I can think of:

        1.) Cost. Sure, you could get a package delivered to Russia in less than an hour, but it would cost 3 million dollars.

        2.) Right now, the vehicles we have that are designed for quick takeoff, orbit, and re-entry carry rather more destructive cargo [wikipedia.org]. Maybe FedEx doesn't want the Russians mistaking one of their rockets filled with Barney DVDs for a nuclear attack and triggering World War III. I would have to imagine the PR from that sort of thing would be somewhat damaging.
        • Sure you could deliver a package anywhere in the world in a couple of hours, but it will take a few more hours to a few days to clear customs anyway.

          (I had a _very_ bad experience shipping a friend's dog to Turkey recently... they decided to classify a spayed pet coon hound as an "exotic breeding animal" which required a few days of chasing around the proper forms, finding the proper officials to fill them out/stamp them, and of course all the taxes and fees. FIVE days in a box instead of the scheduled tw
        • by db32 (862117)
          What PR? Who is going to be left to complain?
          • by QMO (836285)
            Well, the cockroaches that come across the Barney DVDs won't complain. They THRIVE on garbage.
      • by Valiss (463641) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:53AM (#20756205) Homepage
        Are you implying that a fictional book did not acurately predict the future?
      • Would you be willing to pay 2.5 million dollars for 2.4 hour delivery, compared to 250 dollars for 24 hour delivery?

        That's why Fedex isn't buying spacecraft.
        • If I'm a government, and absolutely, positively need a vaccine/supplies/etc. on the other side of the world in a couple of hours, yes, 2.4 million is chump change (a shuttle launch costs 500-600 million dollars). This is the reason scramjets/ramjets are in development. Getting between the two farthest points in the world takes a short time when you're traveling at Mach 4-10.
          • If you're a government and you need those suppies there yesterday, you probably have your own spacecraft (including in that sub-orbital spacecraft, like ICBMs, which could of course be used for delivery of things other than weapons) and high-speed fighter craft. Even as late as 1999, the US government had access to the SR71 Blackbird- Mach 3+ (and of course the inevitable speculation that the SR-71 was replaced by another plane of greater capacity).

            Sure, getting stuff there quick is good. But it'd just not
      • by CFTM (513264)
        Uh, I can answer this question for you quite easily; the R&D has yet to be done by other companies! Why the heck is a public company, like UPS, going to waste their profits on this sort of R&D when they can let other people do it for them? You won't see UPS and FedEx getting involved with this sort of stuff until someone else bears the heavy burden for the R&D required to make this cost effective.
        • Actually UPS and FedEx do a lot of R&D currently they are both heavily invested in alternative fuel and hybrid technologies (think of the amount of gas one UPS truck on one route burns).

          When they see its financially beneficial they will do it you can bet.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by JWtW (875602)

        I think you're on to something. With a quick slingshot around the sun, they could start offering 'UPS Yesterday Air'

      • But the difficult bit is working out how to put Atlanta into orbit.
      • it's R&D now - getting the knowledge up and cost now. Parcel shippers aren't going to find it profitable now.

        Others will bring the cost down, and when they do, then you'll find the parcel shippers interested in buyin craft.
      • FedEx Satellites (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:42AM (#20756853)
        Interestingly enough, FedEx does/did have satellites. Why you ask? In the 1980's what was then Federal Express worked with the fax companies to develop the Group III fax standard. Every FedEx station got one of these large fax machine complete with hard drives and a plain paper printer. The theory was, people would go to a FedEx location, have their documents faxed to somewhere else, where, for a fee, a courier would deliver it to the recipient. Alternately, high value customers, like law firms, would get a smaller thermal machines for mostly sending to the FedEx station which would forward it to the target station for delivery. The satellites were used to route the data between stations w/o using a phone line. Remember, this was before the Internet, and most companies who used fax would buy them in pairs to send between sites. Almost no one else would have a fax machine that could talk to your fax machine.

        Federal Express spend *billions* on the system, and it failed utterly. What happened was the same companies that helped them develop the Group III standard made their thermal machines cheap and interoperatable. Soon, everyone had them, and the thermal paper wasn't too bad. You could always photocopy it once if you wanted a more permanent record. That, and falling long distance phone prices made it overall cheaper to fax a document than to have FedEx do it for you.

        To sum up, FedEx has already been to space. They are looking at it, and it's always way too expensive for any kind of regular service. (except some data)
    • This explains the "atmospheric reentry safe" boxes they kept trying to sell to me in the UPS store.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      So that's how UPS plans on routing packages in the future.

      INCOMING!!!

    • Where do you live? I thought it was only in Finland that the UPS employs untrained monkeys.

      The image I have of the UPS is that of an abject, mindless, clueless, arrogant and destructive company. I mean, heck, USPS gets the job done for far less, and yet the parcels are not mangled, punctured or delivered weeks later. If USPS, FedEx, DHL, GLS etc. etc. can all do it, why can't UPS?

      WTF is wrong with UPS Finland?
  • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:34AM (#20755903) Homepage Journal
    But, Planet Express is usually so reliable!
  • Is a 30km rope (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tastecicles (1153671) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:34AM (#20755911)
    ...really long enough? One would have thought that to drop something 150km one would need a 150km rope? ...and something to reduce friction as the probe gets towed along the ground at 17,000 kilometres per hour....
    • by Tuoqui (1091447)
      It wouldnt be going 17000 km/h if the object in orbit is in geostationary orbit.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Hoi Polloi (522990)
      If you RTFA you'd have read that the goal wasn't to reach the earth's surface but to lower something to a lower orbit.
      • Re:Is a 30km rope (Score:4, Interesting)

        by dmatos (232892) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:49AM (#20756129)
        Technically, to lower it down enough that it was no longer travelling at orbital velocity, at which point the tether would be released, and the capsule would fall through the atmosphere before a parachute opened up.

        Given that LEO is at least 200km, the object would still be at 170km when released, and would have to survive the entire brunt of the re-entry problems. I'm not sure how lowering something on a tether is more economical/effective than using thrust to de-orbit, though.
        • I'm not sure how lowering something on a tether is more economical/effective than using thrust to de-orbit, though.

          From what I could tell, from my armchair scientist opinion, is that they're using a combo of gravity and air friction to drop the ball.

          One plus to this method is it doesn't require the package to have fuel and engines, which thrust would require. Just shove everything into a really heat resistant ball and let it go.
          • And you couldn't just shoot it out the back of the parent spacecraft to impart the required delta-V to de-orbit? I haven't run the numbers*, but it seems a good bit more reliable than a long tether. Tethers have a nasty habit of doing bad things in space, where forward is up, backwards is down, and anything to the side comes back to hit you half and orbit later.

            *Yes, I have taken space guidance and navigation courses at both the graduate and undergraduate level. Thanks for asking.
            • Returning things from space via tether provides the tether with a "free" reboost. You really want the tether to be able to boost objects into a HIGHER orbit. In theory, saving a lot of money on conventional propulsion:

              e.g. combine a long tether with a hypersonic high-altitude aircraft, mate the payload with the tether at the altitude where tether and aircraft overlap (or a small engine to get from aircraft alt to tether alt) and let centripetal force launch the payload into the higher orbit. Then (magic
          • by dmatos (232892)
            I originally thought that as well, but the blob on the tether is in orbit at the same time as the spaceship. You still have to impart some delta-vee to start the capsule moving away from the spaceship. Things can't just be "lowered" from orbit. I assume they're giving this ball a shove out the door to start it on its way down, and just using the tether to control it for the first 30km. Same thing could be done without the tether, and you'd have a less controlled release.

            Maybe that's the point. The ball
            • by barakn (641218)
              You've forgotten tidal forces. Once there's any separation at all between the two objects they are experiencing two different gravitational forces on them. The difference between the two forces is the tidal force that will separate them. It quickly gets complicated as the lower one will want to move faster in its orbit and the higher one will want to orbit slower but they're tethered together...
              • by dmatos (232892)
                /me nods sagely and returns to his library to re-read Neutron Star.

                Yeah, I can see how that would require less energy than just imparting delta-vee. Thanks.
            • I assume they're giving this ball a shove out the door to start it on its way down, and just using the tether to control it for the first 30km.

              IANAOM (orbital mechanic), but the tether forces the object to maintain the same velocity as the station. Since the object is at a lower altitude, the gravitational pull on it is stronger, and the object is pulled towards Earth -- but it can't speed up relative to the station because the tether is holding it back, so it keeps moving downward. The pull on the tether
              • One clarification -- when I said the station will move higher, I meant that this will happen as the rope is paid out; the center of gravity of the station, rope, and payload should stay in the same orbit until the payload is let go. If you don't pay out more rope, the altitude of the station and payload do not change.
          • by Rei (128717)
            Most of the "tether" experiments for lowering payloads that have been done in the past involve the use of the Earth's magnetic field inducing current in a cable that moves through it, creating resistance. They radiate away the energy produced, thus lowering the orbit.

            The reverse is also potentially possible, and is discussed as a way to reboost satellites without fuel.
    • At 17,000 km/hr you would have to worry about friction in the atmosphere, let alone the ground. It would be a fireball a long way from the ground.
    • by clambake (37702) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:51AM (#20756163) Homepage
      One would have thought that to drop something 150km one would need a 150km rope?

      You don't know anything about space, clearly, so just shut up. Leave this stuff to us experts.

      (aside: Hey Bob, I have an idea why our space tether idea didn't work our right, get this: what if we used MORE than 30km of...)
  • Close call (Score:5, Funny)

    by Joe the Lesser (533425) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:35AM (#20755927) Homepage Journal
    This project hangs on a thread. I don't know if they'll be able to pull it off or knot. They have to make sure they don't get tied up on this setback. It really could unravel any day.
  • what? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    wouldn't there be an equal and opposite reaction pulling the space part down to the earth part?
  • by Delusion_ (56114) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:37AM (#20755953) Homepage
    ...string theory.
  • Previous try (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:41AM (#20756003) Homepage Journal
    From new scientist

    Experimental space tether fails to deploy * 15:17 11 May 2007 * NewScientist.com news service * Kelly Young A trio of mini-satellites has failed in their attempt to deploy a kilometre-long tether in space. The setback means the low-cost Multi-Application Survivable Tether (MAST) experiment, launched on 17 April, may not achieve its goal of testing the survivability of a thin, braided tether in space. Over the past week, mission managers determined that the tether-deploying element, known as Ted, had properly separated from the tether inspector, a tiny satellite called Gadget. But a glitch in the restraint system kept Ted from pushing away hard enough to keep unreeling the tether from its spool. So the tether deployed just a few metres, rather than a full kilometre. Robert Hoyt, chief executive officer of Tethers Unlimited, which designed the picosatellites, says mission managers suspect they know what caused the glitch, but the company is not ready to disclose this to the public yet. "I don't think we'll ever know for sure," he says. Space tethers could one day be used to fling satellites into different orbits, thus saving satellite companies money on fuel. Or tethers could enable clusters of satellites to fly in formation and prevent them from drifting away from one another over time. Such an application might be useful in interferometry, where images from several telescopes, spaced some distance apart, are combined to give greater resolution. Some data Despite the setback, the MAST team at Tethers Unlimited, a company in Bothell, Washington, US, still may be able to get other data from Gadget to learn how a short tether behaves in microgravity. MAST team members discussed having Gadget crawl down the tether to Ted to try to restart the deployment, but they decided that option was too risky. "If we were to have Gadget start to crawl, there is the possibility of the satellites banging together, which would be very likely to damage solar cells and other systems," Hoyt says. This was not the first setback for the mission, which costs less than $1 million. After launch, the satellite team could not get a signal from Ted (see No signal yet heard from tether-deploying satellite). But they said that this should not have affected Ted's ability to deploy the tether. Longest tether Then, sky watchers who had been on the lookout for the deployed tether and satellites from the ground had not seen anything when MAST was scheduled to appear overhead. "That's one confirmation that the tether is not deployed to a very long length," Hoyt told New Scientist. In other space tether news, the longest planned space tether just got a little closer to launch. The satellite, a project of 500 students in Europe known as Young Engineers Satellite 2 (YES2), was shipped to its launch site in Russia from the Netherlands on 10 May. YES2, a project of the European Space Agency, is scheduled to launch in September. If everything goes as planned, the satellite will unroll a 30-kilometre-long tether that is a mere 0.5 millimetres thick. The end of the tether will be attached to a small round capsule called Fotino that will eventually re-enter Earth's atmosphere and attempt to land
  • by The-Bus (138060) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:43AM (#20756037)
    The rope did not only not unwind fully, it started going back into the spacecraft. Representatives from the manufactuer of the rope-unwinding mechanism, Duncan YY Heavy Industries, were unavailable for comment.
    • by aero6dof (415422)
      Duncan YY Heavy Industries, were unavailable for comment.

      I heard that they barely beat out YoYoDyne unwinder contract.
  • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:45AM (#20756071) Journal
    If they bothered to do some research [wikipedia.org] they would've found out that the way to do this is to sit in a cloth, put on a turban, and play a flute in front of a basket with a rope coiled in it until it went up into the sky. Then you have a little kid climb up it.
  • Spooling is hard (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:48AM (#20756119) Homepage

    Managing big spools of line is surprisingly difficult. Oceanographers run into this all the time, as they try to lower a few miles of line into the ocean. The textile industry runs into it when they try to use very large spools so they can run machinery longer without splicing. Designing something to unspool 30Km of line under near-zero tension in zero G is non-trivial.

    Here's a discussion of spool winding [amacoil.com], if you're really interested. There are even companies that specialize in spool winding [independentusa.com].

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dpbsmith (263124)
      "The whale line is only two thirds of an inch in thickness. At first sight, you would not think it so strong as it really is. By experiment its one and fifty yarns will each suspend a weight of one hundred and twenty pounds; so that the whole rope will bear a strain nearly equal to three tons. In length, the common sperm whale-line measures something over two hundred fathoms. Towards the stern of the boat it is spirally coiled away in the tub, not like the worm-pipe of a still though, but so as to form o
    • by Lumpy (12016)
      Designing something to unspool 30Km of line under near-zero tension in zero G is non-trivial.

      then put a heavy weight on the other end.... DUH. why dont these scientists think of these things!
      • by Dunbal (464142)
        then put a heavy weight on the other end

              I assume you were being sarcastic. At least I hope so!
  • by 192939495969798999 (58312) <info@devi n m oore.com> on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:03AM (#20756319) Homepage Journal
    In Russia, they spend millions of dollars developing space cable to lower object from space. In America, we just wait for gravity to bring it down!
  • People, please think about that, the next time you put off trimming your trees. It's not just about the neighborhood kids' kites anymore.
  • by Kazymyr (190114) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:39AM (#20756811) Journal
    Since 30000 feet = 9.14km...

    Ah wait...

    This isn't NASA.

    Nothing to see here, move along.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The space rope trick was actually an ESA students project: YES2 [esa.int], the second Young Engineers Satellite.

    According to the article [esa.int] at ESA:

    The Second Young Engineers' Satellite (YES2) was activated and separated from the Foton-M3 spacecraft earlier today. The tether deployed for 8.5 km, after which the Fotino capsule was released on its way to Earth.

    "We are very proud of the students' work, although we didn't reach the full 30 km deployment" said Roger Walker, YES2 project manager for ESA's Education Office. "Th

  • by flyingfsck (986395) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @01:16PM (#20758103)
    Well, pushing rope is known to be a problem, while smoking rope is an acient passtime. When they finally did manage to talk to the satellite, it said: "Hey, dude...".
  • by dstone (191334) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @02:17PM (#20758839) Homepage
    From TFA...

    the tether only unfolded to a length of 8.5 kilometres after being released from the spacecraft orbiting around 300 kilometres above Earth ... Mission Control would try to calculate the capsule's orbit and determine when and where it would land ... the tether deployed Tuesday is half a millimetre thick and is made of Dyneema, which the ESA described as the world's strongest fibre
    Heads up! Light, unbreakable, invisible rope flailing around...

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