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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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  • Sometime in it's orbit, would it drop down to 12K? Meaning, could it be still used when and if it cools down enough - at least until someone can get up their to replenish it?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by snookerhog (1835110)
      depends on whether the primary source of the offending heat is internal or external.

      (no i did not RTFA)

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Abstrackt (609015)

        depends on whether the primary source of the offending heat is internal or external.

        (no i did not RTFA)

        A real shame there. You didn't even read the summary. It's not really a source of offending heat that's the issue so much as a lack of proper cooling. The outer, secondary cooling tank is depleted. The primary one is still functional but apparently it's not enough to keep it at optimal temperature.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          It's not really a source of offending heat that's the issue so much as a lack of proper cooling.

          Yeah, and it's not the fall that kills you, it's the short, sudden stop at the end.

          A real shame there. You didn't even read the summary.

          It's really a shame you don't understand that there's no difference between the two. Hint: If you don't have heating, you don't need cooling.

          • There's a neat thing in logic... the knowledge to know the things you can change, accepting the things you cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

            • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

              by fadethepolice (689344)
              My take on this: God grant me the alcohol to accept the things I cannot change, the ammo to change the things I can and the inablity to tell the difference...
          • Hint: If you don't have heating, you don't need cooling.

            Logically very true, but given that this is a satellite whose purpose is to collect sensor data then the heat generation must be assumed. Heat is a given byproduct of running the sensors. NASA could solve the problem very quickly by just shutting down the sensors. But that defeats the purpose of putting the thing into space in the first place.

            Though the GP might have been better informed by reading the article, but the point was valid. The problem is not that the spacecraft is generating more heat than

          • by Abstrackt (609015)

            It's not really a source of offending heat that's the issue so much as a lack of proper cooling.

            Yeah, and it's not the fall that kills you, it's the short, sudden stop at the end.

            A real shame there. You didn't even read the summary.

            It's really a shame you don't understand that there's no difference between the two. Hint: If you don't have heating, you don't need cooling.

            You're drawing some irrelevant conclusions there. You're absolutely correct that if you don't have heating you don't need cooling, but there is heat and cooling is necessary because of it.

            They're using solid hydrogen to achieve the optimum operating temperature. NASA was only able to include a limited amount of it and one of the tanks is now empty; that is the problem. Hopefully this clears things up for you.

            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by drinkypoo (153816)

              You're drawing some irrelevant conclusions there. You're absolutely correct that if you don't have heating you don't need cooling, but there is heat and cooling is necessary because of it.

              You are being a toolbag here, because I said nothing about cooling not being required, nor heating not occurring. In fact, if you read between the lines slightly, you can see that I believe that heating is occurring and that cooling is necessary, because my comment makes no sense otherwise. Kind of like yours.

              They're using solid hydrogen to achieve the optimum operating temperature. NASA was only able to include a limited amount of it and one of the tanks is now empty; that is the problem. Hopefully this clears things up for you.

              I knew all of this before I even commented. Hopefully you go fuck yourself.

              • by Abstrackt (609015)

                To be honest, I don't believe you've said much of anything. We can debate about what you meant to say or implied all day long but you're just taking things further off track.

                That aside, I think it's great that NASA has been successful with this project and I can't wait to see the pictures.

          • by ppanon (16583)

            While it may not have been his point, his quote from the summary indicating that the outer cooling tank depleted first would seem to indicate that chances are the heat source is external to the device (aka the sun). Also engineers aren't stupid - if a device needs to be kept cool with a non-renewable coolant, they'll probably try to use a power source like solar panels that generate less heat than something like an RPG. The heat put out by whatever electronics are used for image capture, processing and tran

        • by X0563511 (793323)

          Which tank is dead doesn't matter, his question is focused on where the heat the tanks are combating /comes/ from. Is it solar radiation warming it, or the device itself (ie, electrical waste heat or something).

          It's a real shame you didn't even think the post through before you fired off a snippy reply.

          Also, "It's not really a source of offending heat that's the issue so much as a lack of proper cooling." - this doesn't even make sense. Read it again - if offending heat isn't an issue, then why is proper co

    • by esocid (946821)
      From my understanding of the article, they didn't have any plans to replenish it.
    • by hedwards (940851)
      Like the Hubble it's probably a lot cheaper to replace it when it finally breaks than fix or upgrade it. You don't save money by sending a manned space crew to replenish it when you could just send up another one on a rocket. Which is expensive, but frequently less so than trying to fix things in space. Not to mention less risky to personnel involved.
      • No need for a disposable satellite if you want to do IR astronomy. It flies in the tropopause above the atmospheric water vapor so the sky is transparent. There's no need to worry about running out of cryogen. Just keep enough for the mission on the plane, and refill with each landing.

  • I'll bet it's because of the alien heating lasers. They don't want us to see too much/far.

  • If you read the article it says that the solid hydrogen was expected to disappear about 10 months after launch, and it was launched in Dec 2009. Now it's 8/10.

    What's so remarkable about something being used up that was designed to be used up?

    Nothing to see here, move along!

    --PM

    • by Demonantis (1340557) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @12:34PM (#33229436)
      Not to mention

      NASA said WISE completed its primary mission, a full scan of the entire sky in infrared light, on July 17, 2010.

      Sounds like a non-issue there.

    • by barzok (26681) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @01:05PM (#33229832)

      Maybe we've just become accustomed to NASA missions far exceeding [wikipedia.org] their expected duration [wikipedia.org].

      • This. Keep pushing the bar higher (I'm looking at you Spirit and Opportunity), and when something fails when we predicted, we're disappointed it didn't last longer. Us humans are hard to please.

        • The difference is that this satellite relies on consumable coolant to operate. When the coolant it brought along is gone, it can no longer gather useful data (internal thermal noise becomes greater than the light they are trying to detect). Nothing they could have done would have changed that fact, there's no other way to keep a satellite at those kinds of temperatures. Even so, if I know NASA they'll find a way to re-appropriate this satellite for another mission and it will remain useful for quite some

    • 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 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 natehoy (1608657)

          As long as they used the rubber band to strap around the writing arms of all of the Congresscritters so they'd stop mucking up the mission objectives or specifying that the lunch has to consist solely of corn grown in their district, I bet they could do it with just the sack lunch and SCUBA tank.

      • 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 Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @03:35PM (#33231542) Homepage

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

          The government is so incompetent, they can't even fail right!

        • 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.

          That's mostly a function of how they operate. When you're only going to produce one or two of a particularly complex device that you can't touch after it starts working, it's generally either going to work great (because you spent a whole lot of time making sure everything was perfect) or fail completely (because you missed that one impor

    • by ddillman (267710)
      Exactly! This is not a newsworthy item. At best it's a blip saying it's happened as expected. Poor headline, poor choice to run this as front page news.
    • by ConfusedVorlon (657247) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @01:49PM (#33230276) Homepage

      PR Dept: We haven't said anything for a while. What's new?
      Scientist: Nothing happening really - we're not even getting much from WISE now
      PR Dept: What? No WISE?
      Scientist: Exactly, it's coming to the planned end of usefulness and heating up
      PR Dept: [hitting speeddial] Is that the New York Times? One of our satellites is about to explode...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pharmboy (216950)

      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.

  • by hpa (7948) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @12:31PM (#33229406) Homepage
  • 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.

    • Re:What to do (Score:4, Informative)

      by Confusador (1783468) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @01:44PM (#33230228)

      The primary mission was to map the whole sky once. They left themselves some reserves in case of problems, so they were expecting to be able to do a second partial map, but we covered their success [slashdot.org] when it happened back in July. So, this is news, but not a surprise. You can find more details on their site [nasa.gov].

    • by sjames (1099)

      The secondary objective was just a hopeful one along the lines of as long as it's up there and still partially functioning after completing it's mission, it would be a shame to just switch it off.

  • Plus, you know, it's been rather hot outside. Waaayyyy outside.
  • I think people in the USA with a brain will be able to grasp kelvin/Celsius fine... The others don't need to be reading this.
    • by MightyYar (622222)

      The nice thing is that at 12 degrees, to a layman it doesn't really matter if you are talking Rankine or Kelvin...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by blair1q (305137)

        Laymen don't understand thermodynamics at any temperature. It's not about temperature, it's about pretending there's a problem and engaging people's antagonistic streak towards government, which they also don't understand at any temperature.

        • by BobMcD (601576)

          True. Also it seems elitism functions at a variety of temperatures.

      • by natehoy (1608657)

        Or, if you live too far of the Mason Dixon line, Fahrenheit, for that matter. 12F is cold enough to kill a thin-blooded southerner as dead as 100F would do to thick-blooded me. :)

      • [Pedant mode on]

        Kelvin isn't a measure of degree, it is a unit. You say 12 Kelvin, not 12 degrees Kelvin.

        [Pedant mode off]
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by cycleflight (1811074)
      I'll grasp who I like, thank you very much.
  • As Planned (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It finished the first pass a month ago and will be doing another pass as it heats up to check for differences since the last pass.
    The new infrared data provided by WISE should be approximately 1000 times more sensitive than previous data.

  • Is it possible to change its orbit so it's constantly in the umbra of something? The earth, the moon, IIS, anything?

    • The only place which would be "constantly" in the umbra from the Sun would be the L2 LaGrange point, opposite the sun. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ee/Lagrange_points2.svg [wikimedia.org] The Sun-staring SOHO uses the opposite L1 to stay OUT of the umbra. However, it's roughly a million miles from earth. So, let's just say no and build another one.

      Any other place that you "park it" will end up revolving into view of the Sun. Sorry. I didn't design this system.
    • by mrsquid0 (1335303)

      No, and even if there was such a place, WISE does not have the fuel to go anywhere (except down).

    • Is it possible to change its orbit so it's constantly in the umbra of something? The earth, the moon, IIS, anything?

      Rocket scientists are so stupid sometimes... why would they have opted to launch heavy and nonreplentishable coolant into space rather than it's own light-weight unfoldable heat resistant umbrella umbra, that would forever give it a tiny eclipse of the Sun to remain cool in?

  • Several years ago I got the idea to use my wife's feet as a heat sink for an overclocked CPU. Once I solved the issue of frost buildup on the chip, it worked great.
    • by rubycodez (864176)

      but can you do anything about the SMELL? it's getting rather intense over here in Chicago

  • In May of 2009, the Spitzer IR space telescope ran out of coolant and transitioned to a "warm mission":

    http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2009-086 [nasa.gov]

    However...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wide-field_Infrared_Survey_Explorer [wikipedia.org] ...The WISE group's bid for continued funding for an extended "warm mission" was recently scored low by a NASA review board, in part because of a lack of outside groups publishing on WISE Data. Such a mission would have allowed use of the 3.4 and 4.6 micron detectors after the la

  • It achieved 100% objectives. Its on extended mission now. But probably will not complete a 2nd full-sky mapping.
  • Okay, stupid question, but isn't space 'cold'? I'm having a hard time picturing why the thing is heating up when it is in outer space.

    • It is way colder than 12K, but the density of matter in space is very small, what makes it hard to conduct any heat into it. You could still radiate the heat away, if you were able to carry enough radiative area, and dealed with the problem that is the Sun heating your radiators, instead of deep space cooling them.

    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @04:41PM (#33232686) Homepage

      It's heating up due to absorbing solar radiation and the operation of the electronics on board. Space is cold, but that doesn't help our poor telescope because there's nothing for its heat to be transmitted to. It's not like setting a hot mug of coffee outside on a cold winter day. There, conduction and convection are doing most of the work. Conduction, by the way, is why the sun hitting one side of the scope results in the entire telescope heating up.

      In space the only effective way to lose heat is via radiation. The amount of blackbody radiation emitted is proportional to temperature, and the equilibrium point where the telescope is losing as much heat as it is gaining is well above 12K.

    • by Raptoer (984438)

      Space doesn't really have a temperature. Temperature and conduction of heat requires particles to bump into each other. You feel something being hot because the molecules in it are moving very quickly. You feel something being cold because the molecules in it are moving slower. However in space there are (almost) no molecules.

      Thus the only ways to lose and gain temperature are via radiation (not necessarily ionizing radiation), and internal heat generation. The sun is radiating energy onto the satellite and

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