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NASA Space Science

NASA Universe-Watching Satellite Losing Its Cool 153

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the grandma-made-it-a-sweater dept.
coondoggie writes "NASA this week said its Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE satellite is heating up — not a good thing when your primary mission instrument needs to be kept cold to work. According to NASA, WISE has two coolant tanks that keep the spacecraft's normal operating temperature at 12 Kelvin (minus 438 degrees Fahrenheit). The outer, secondary tank is now depleted, causing the temperature to increase. One of WISE's infrared detectors, the longest-wavelength band most sensitive to heat, stopped producing useful data once the telescope warmed to 31 Kelvin (minus 404 degrees Fahrenheit)."
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NASA Universe-Watching Satellite Losing Its Cool

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  • What to do (Score:4, Insightful)

    by esocid (946821) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @12:32PM (#33229412) Journal

    WISE's infrared telescope and detectors are kept chilled inside a Thermos-like tank of solid hydrogen, called a cryostat. This prevents WISE from picking up the heat, or infrared, signature of its own instrument. The solid hydrogen, called a cryogen, was expected to last about 10 months -- the mission launched in December 2009.

    The primary tank is still running, and now will do a

    second survey of about one-half the sky. It's possible the remaining coolant will run out before that scan is finished. Scientists say the second scan will help identify new and nearby objects, as well as those that have changed in brightness. It could also help to confirm oddball objects picked up in the first scan, NASA stated.

    It appears, to the uninformed such as myself, that this satellite was meant to have a life of about 2 years. The good news is that it accomplished its primary mission. The bad news is that the NASA boys either didn't plan accordingly to cool it properly for its second run, or it was a hopeful objective.

  • by natehoy (1608657) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @01:05PM (#33229836) Journal

    Are you saying the consumables on board were consumed on schedule, as designed and as expected? STOP THE PRESSES!

    NASA's problem is that Spirit and Opportunity lasted so ridiculously long past their stated mission that merely exceeding expectations by a reasonable engineering design factor now looks like newsworthy incompetence.

    They should have ended that mission on time by nuking them from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

  • by arkane1234 (457605) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @01:12PM (#33229928) Journal

    The entire British Commonwealth uses Celsius.

    Language wise, English equals British about as much as Spanish equals Spain.

    In other words, lots of countries were subjugated many hundreds of years ago by the two empires. English is simply a footprint from that period of time, as is Spanish. Since most of the countries are now separate entities and disparate, logic would dictate that the ousted countries' activities would hold no bearing on said countries' activities.

  • by sjames (1099) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @01:52PM (#33230296) Homepage

    Dead on. Furthermore, it IS still working on a secondary bonus mission since all but the longest wavelength is still working great. Apparently, NASA is not olny expected to extend it's missions well beyond their designed endpoint, they are expected to do so with no degradation whatsoever.

    I guess at this rate, they'll be given a big rubber band, a sack lunch and a scuba tank for their budget and instructed to carry out a manned moon mission.

  • by chihowa (366380) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @02:12PM (#33230508)

    Frankly, this whole discussion is moot. -404F isn't any more or less informative to most people than -242C. They're both "really really fucking cold".

    The only useful unit for temperatures that low is K.

  • by Angst Badger (8636) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @02:13PM (#33230522)

    NASA's problem is that Spirit and Opportunity lasted so ridiculously long past their stated mission that merely exceeding expectations by a reasonable engineering design factor now looks like newsworthy incompetence.

    It's not just the rovers. Despite some genuinely newsworthy fuckups, when NASA gets it right -- which is most of the time -- they usually do a stellar job, pun intended. A fair number of NASA probes have lasted decades beyond their primary mission and continue to produce useful data. Voyager I, for example, is still transmitting thirty-three years after its launch.

    Some people have just got to have their government incompetence stories even when the government is being unbelievably competent.

  • by CarpetShark (865376) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @03:55PM (#33231906)

    NASA is US-based

    So if your server is in Nashville, all text should be in a southern accent, rest of the country be damned?

    Newsflash: political boundaries are figments of the imagination.

  • by Pharmboy (216950) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @06:06PM (#33233626) Journal

    But when you have rovers that end up lasting 30x their expected lifetime, you expect more from a bottle of hydrogen.

    Besides, this is in outer space. You would think that keeping things cold would be easy. Guess not.

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