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NASA News Science

Shuttle Launch Delayed Again, Possibly Until December 111

Posted by samzenpus
from the catch-you-next-month dept.
An anonymous reader writes "NASA engineers worked overnight trying to fix the electrical problem that forced the launch of space shuttle Discovery to be delayed again. Mission managers will meet later Wednesday to figure out if a launch on Thursday is even possible. The tentative plan is to have Discovery lift off Thursday at 3:29pm. If that does not happen it would be rescheduled for Sunday. If it cannot launch Sunday then it will have to wait until December. NASA engineers have a lot of work on their hands Wednesday morning. Discovery has an electrical issue that forced officials to postpone its liftoff, which had been rescheduled for Wednesday afternoon."
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Shuttle Launch Delayed Again, Possibly Until December

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @02:39PM (#34115964)
    Did they check if it's plugged in?

    Have they tried turning it off and on?
  • Why bother? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kurt555gs (309278)

    The shuttle was an misconceived expensive piece of junk designed to make the Russians go broke copying it. (Read Buran). We should have never given up on the Saturn V as out heavy lift platform.

    Why not just move the remaining Shuttles to museums like the Smithonian and Wright/Pat and display them as the costly mistakes they are.

    We also could build a modern Saturn V with better metallurgy, and computers very easily. I think the reason we don't is that the design is public domain and the usual contractors c

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Thus speaks someone who as never seen a launch and believes things like the Hubble telescope shouldn't be serviced.

      As for Russia, they'd hardly go broken when they could put satellites in orbit for under $1m. Materials are cheap, labor more so under the Soviets.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by 0123456 (636235)

        Thus speaks someone who as never seen a launch and believes things like the Hubble telescope shouldn't be serviced.

        But no telescope since Hubble has been designed for manned servicing because it's proven cheaper to launch a new one than to send astronauts there.

        Servicing Hubble made sense when a shuttle flight was supposed to cost $10,000,000 (maybe $50,000,000 in today's money), but not now it's proven to cost over $1,000,000,000.

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          And how would they know that if they haven't tried it? Paper pushers made numbers look good. Reality made numbers look bad. Reality is where space shuttle flies.

          There is nothing comparable to the Hubble. People like you, doing nothing but paper pushing, can't even grasp the numbers never mind the science.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubble_telescope

          "From its original total cost estimate of about US$400 million, the telescope had by now cost over $2.5 billion to construct. Hubble's cumulative costs up to thi

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Un pobre guey (593801)
            Will you just stop? You are either deliberately misleading or didn't quite get the post. Hubble was designed to be serviced by the shuttle. The ulterior purpose was to justify the shuttle program and, more specifically, the budgetary outlays for it. Had the Hubble been designed to be machine-serviceable, it would have been much cheaper overall. That's the point the parent was making. Nobody is criticizing the Hubble. It was and is certainly a great piece of hardware that, unlike most NASA boondoggles (e.g.I
        • by Abcd1234 (188840)

          But no telescope since Hubble has been designed for manned servicing because it's proven cheaper to launch a new one than to send astronauts there.

          If that were true, Hubble would never ever have been serviced, as it would be "cheaper to launch a new one". And yet it has been, repeatedly. Not only to fix the original mirror defect, but to install whole new equipment (like the ACS).

          • by 0123456 (636235)

            If that were true, Hubble would never ever have been serviced, as it would be "cheaper to launch a new one". And yet it has been, repeatedly.

            How does the governent doing something prove that it's cost-effective?

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by tibit (1762298)

              Or, more to the point: it would cost about the same to launch a whole new Hubble, with ACS on board, that it cost to service the one on orbit. The latter carried less risk, I guess.

              • by Abcd1234 (188840)

                it would cost about the same to launch a whole new Hubble, with ACS on board, that it cost to service the one on orbit

                Again, if that were true, *they would have*.

                The latter carried less risk, I guess.

                Ah, I see, so in your world, risk has no cost?

                • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

                  by 0123456 (636235)

                  Again, if that were true, *they would have*.

                  Why?

                  • by Abcd1234 (188840)

                    Why?

                    Now you're going to invoke a conspiracy theory about how the government is all about inefficiency, pork, etc, etc... please... piss off. I reject your claim, so quit trying to make it.

                    • You reject the notion that the US Geovernment is all about pork? That it's all just conspiracy theory? Dude!!
                      [slap slap slap]
                • by tibit (1762298)

                  With projects like that, you won't know the risk until you try. A couple times. So even though the risk has a cost, there's no way to tell what cost it has. There are highly paid IMHO clowns who pretend to be able to put a price to such risk, but it's a mere pretense. They are very poor predictors of any individual project's risk, they can only gauge risk in bulk, across several unrelated projects. IOW, they know a lot about everything, but nothing about something in particular. So whatever risk they come u

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            It should never have been. It only cost ~$400 million, which is less than a shuttle launch costs.

            • by Abcd1234 (188840)

              It should never have been. It only cost ~$400 million, which is less than a shuttle launch costs.

              Uh, if you launched a whole new telescope, you'd have to launch it in *something*.

              So are you saying the $400M for a whole new platform, plus launch costs, is less than a servicing mission? If so, you might want to tell NASA. Given the shoestring budget they run on, you'd think they'd want to save their pennies wherever they could.

              • by h4rr4r (612664)

                No they want the media coverage manned space flight offers. I am saying launching a new hubble would have been cheaper after all the service missions. Hell, killing the shuttle at challenger would have saved us all a lot of money and heartache.

    • by wjousts (1529427)
      Why even send people at all? Floating about in space is something that's pretty easy to automate.
    • by Y-Crate (540566)

      Oh, not the whole "Start Building the Saturn V Again!" argument.

      I understand it. I do. On the surface, it makes perfect sense.

      But it doesn't make sense from a practical standpoint. All the parts that went into it are out of production. You might find some screws or maybe even some tubing that have lingered on to fill the need of some obscure sub-market, but other than that, it's all gone. You'd have to create production lines for every last part. And production lines for every part that goes into every larg

      • Not sure if it made it to Slashdot or not, but the Constellation program (which was prohibitively expensive) has been scrapped in favour of a more affordable SDLV similar to DIRECT's Jupiter. [directlauncher.com]
        • I wonder if this is the same guy that claimed his company was going to the moon, and posted an Ask Slashdot asking for web design and 3d modeling advice.
      • by kurt555gs (309278)

        The Space Shuttle has capacity of 24,000 LBS to LEO. The Saturn V had a capacity of 260,000 LBS to LEO.

        Enough said?

      • But it doesn't make sense from a practical standpoint. All the parts that went into it are out of production. You might find some screws or maybe even some tubing that have lingered on to fill the need of some obscure sub-market, but other than that, it's all gone. You'd have to create production lines for every last part. And production lines for every part that goes into every larger part. Certify all of the components and the facilities where they are made.

        How is developing and certifying new production lines for Saturn V parts any different than the original proposal to develop and certify production lines for a new heavy lift rocket like the constellation? It would seem to me to be the same cost with the one exception being that having produced the other parts at some point previously there should be some record of the challenges and common problems that had to be overcome which would make it slightly easier to restart production than from scratch.

        That's j

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      >We also could build a modern Saturn V with better metallurgy, and computers very easily.

      You could also create a modern rocket with the same costs. There's no reason to revive 60s technology and the cost savings of doing so are borderline non-existent and you have the liability and cost of using 50 year old tech.

      Not to mention that LEO is yesterday's problem and is solved using technology being built by private companies like SpaceX. Why spend 100 billion dollars on some new system just to hop to the IS

    • Isn't that approximately NASA's plan going forward? Am I missing something?
    • I always like to imagine how big the ISS would be if we launched the modules SkyLab style, and put the people on little rockets, like SkyLab.
    • The shuttle was an misconceived expensive piece of junk designed to make the Russians go broke copying it. (Read Buran). We should have never given up on the Saturn V as out heavy lift platform.

      Had we kept Saturn V's, they'd be just as expensive, if not more expensive, as the Shuttle. They need much more infrastructure (in the form of the manufacturing facilities) and many more man hours to prepare for flight - and are only worth flying when a multi-billion dollar payload is ready.

      The problem is...

  • Didn't they promise us 50 launches a year with this thing? What ever became of that?

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Lunches. 50 lunches.

      • There ain't 50 such things.

        • by drcheap (1897540)

          Well there are, but they aren't free.

          In fact I imagine, given NASA's way of paying for stuff, a single meal on the shuttle is probably on the order of $1000.

          P.S. Do you still call it lunch if you are in orbit? I mean the concept of day/night and breakfast/lunch/dinner don't really work the same up there.

  • Whoever tagged this "cowardly", I'd like to see you shoot into space when conditions aren't optimal, where conditions not being optimal can mean a horrible death by being vaporized.
  • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @03:04PM (#34116302) Homepage Journal
    This article [spaceflightnow.com] contains some more specifics regarding the problem. Apparently one of the main engine controller computers (the computers that regulate main engine gimbaling and throttle control) failed to power up properly. There was a short time period where a low-voltage occurred which flagged a boot-up sequence issue. Engineers are trying to figure out what caused the voltage drop and, thus, triggered the error in the processor initialization. More information regarding the SSME controllers can be found here [wikipedia.org].

    Apparently the breaker that controls the processor was cycled five times over night. Engineers are guessing that the cycling caused some funny transient anomalies in the circuit which caused the fault. Despite the fault, the main events controller for the shuttle system was brought to full power and is operating nominally, so it's not like the whole computer is crap. NASA just wants to be sure that, a) the fault was actually caused by the breaker cycling and b) the fault won't cause further glitches in any of the other controller systems on the shuttle.

    Interesting stuff indeed. It's probably a good thing that NASA is demanding certainty from it's engineers before clearing Discovery for launch.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Interesting stuff indeed. It's probably a good thing that NASA is demanding certainty from it's engineers before clearing Discovery for launch.

      And part of the reason I don't trust private sector space exploration at this stage of space exploration..

      • by 0123456 (636235) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @03:13PM (#34116412)

        And part of the reason I don't trust private sector space exploration at this stage of space exploration..

        Any private launch company who killed its passengers one time in fifty would be out of business very fast. As far as I remember Branson is planning over a hundred test flights before putting passengers on SS2.

        And the main reason this is an issue is because a failure which caused an engine shutdown early in the flight would require an RTLS abort which is probably unsurvivable, and a failure later in the launch would require an ATO abort which would prevent them from getting to ISS.

        • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @04:16PM (#34117102) Homepage

          require an RTLS abort which is probably unsurvivable

          It's certainly untried. There's never been a successful post-launch Shuttle abort. On three occasions, there have been shutdowns on the pad after engine start. STS-51F did an abort to orbit after an unexpected shutdown of one main engine. But that's a near-normal flight diverted to a lower orbit. The Challenger disaster was the closest to a situation when an RTLS might have been attempted, but the vehicle damage was too great to even try.

        • by hawkfish (8978)

          And part of the reason I don't trust private sector space exploration at this stage of space exploration..

          Any private launch company who killed its passengers one time in fifty would be out of business very fast. As far as I remember Branson is planning over a hundred test flights before putting passengers on SS2.

          This seems to imply that NASA did little to no testing of the Shuttle before putting humans aboard. This is simply not true. I once saw a list of all the pre flight testing that was done and it was quite substantial.

          I'd also like to know how a private company can get the MTBF up so high in such a dangerous environment without either killing customers or burning through an obscene amount of cash.

      • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @03:46PM (#34116804) Homepage Journal
        Well, believe it or not, the type of data that reflects this particular fault would need to be gathered just to allow the engine controllers to function properly. In other words, the redundancy that is built into such a two channel system is in-built so that both processors can check one another in order to have one more reference input to their feedback loop. If I have controller 1's best estimate of the current system state, and I have controller 2's best estimate of the system state, and I have a third estimate of the system state uploaded to the launch vehicle through telemetry resources based on observed flight characteristics, then then I have three system states that I can compare against one another in order to develop and process a command set for the next clock cycle. This type of three-state estimation is pretty much necessary just to damp your transient responses in any highly dynamic system within a reasonable amount of time. Without such a system, your controller often cannot damp out the transient responses for any given state variable and your system decays into an unstable (exploding) mode. In other words, no steady state is achieved.

        That said, in order to achieve stable flight (something already demonstrated by the space tourism industry with SS2, Falcon 1 and Falcon 9), the space tourism industry is going to have to have these checks inbuilt on their systems. They wouldn't be able to fly without them (in fact, considering the complicated geometry for SS2, I would be extraordinarily shocked if they could achieve any stable flight without at least 4 redundant state readings). Ergo, this type of pedantry is a necessity in order to have a functioning vehicle. Thus, the likelihood of the space tourism industry killing customers by skimping on these kinds of checks seems highly unlikely, if not entirely impossible, by the very nature of designing a controllable, complicated launch vehicle. Now, don't get me wrong, the space tourism industry (and NASA) very well could kill customers by various other means. I just don't think a problem like this would be the likely cause based on little more than my own experience in designing flight controller systems (as well as an undergraduate degree focused on that subject).

        Of course, you might just be trying to say that, while NASA is willing to slip a launch and miss a launch window in the name of certainty, the space tourism industry might not. Many 'dotters probably feel that an industrial launch industry would say, "Waiting a day will cost us X many dollars in profits, launch anyways!" (kind of like NASA did with Challenger). Personally, I also find this highly unlikely as dead customers don't tend to be able to spend more money on your company. If Branson blows somebody up, he can't count on them to fly a second time. Combining that with the fact that any engineers involved in such a company would promptly quit (because no engineer wants a customer's death on their conscience, trust me on that), and the company would then undergo a brutal brain drain and a period of stagnation, leads me to conclude that no entrepreneur (especially one that intends to fly on his own hardware) would be willing to take that chance. As you seem to imply, companies want, more than anything else, to protect their profit. Anyone getting involved in the commercial space industry that is flying hardware would not be so dull as to think that killing their customers will increase their profits.

        Saying, "Hey look, my company is flying people into space every week!" is awesome and generates a sense of pride.

        Saying, "Hey look, my company has only killed five people in the last five years!" brings on epic levels of shame and thoughts of suicide.

        That is just my $0.02 on the matter though.
        • Yeah, but if the "dead passengers are bad for business" motif was true, we wouldn't have an NTSB and an FAA. And, car manufacturers like Toyota wouldn't be getting caught playing cost analysis games when their products are found to be defective.

          • Toyota found to be playing cost analysis games when their products are defective? Hmmm, last I heard, the unintended acceleration cases were primarily overblown: see here [wired.com]. Also, I am not entirely sure what your point is with regards to the FAA and NTSB. Both agencies are setup to help regulate both the logistics and safety concerns regarding modern transportation, which, incidentally, also includes regulating space tourism: see here. [faa.gov] The reason some regulation is needed is not because every company that ha
        • It's pretty easy to rationalize something as low as 5 deaths per year. Many corporations are responsible for many more deaths than that. Granted they are not obvious "zomg-died-in-space" deaths.
          Solution: outsource space exploration to Mars.
      • by vbraga (228124)

        Private sector is already sending almost every thing we launch into orbit.

        Take the United Launch Alliance (Boeing/Lockheed Martin joint venture) with, I believe 4 Atlas launches and 4 Delta launches just this year. Take Orbital Sciences Corporation with Taurus II (I believe). Orbital spinned off a company called ORBIMAGE, now GeoEye, that provides a significant part of the beautiful imagery you see in Google Earth. Arianespace has part of its capital in the hand of private investors too, I believe (if EADS

        • by voidptr (609)

          Not to mention Boeing and Lockheed Martin's other joint venture, United Space Alliance took over almost all of the logistics of the Shuttle program about 4 years ago. NASA provides the crew and vehicles, USA does most of the rest.

      • by FleaPlus (6935)

        And part of the reason I don't trust private sector space exploration at this stage of space exploration.

        You do realize that all robotic space exploration missions for many years now, such as the Mars rovers and the multi-billion dollar Cassini-Huygens mission, are launched on private launch vehicles, right?

    • by Thud457 (234763) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @03:34PM (#34116688) Homepage Journal
      Technically correct, most computer problems are at one level, electrical problems.

      I'll have to remember that one for the excuse list...
      • During my spacecraft design class, my team used to complain that we should just higher a bunch of electrical engineers to design our satellites since that's what it seemed like everything boiled down to. When we came back from Christmas break after our first quarter together, the administration had tried to re-image all of our workstation computers, rendering 90% of them unusable. When the IT maintenance guy was in our lab one day, my team lead asked him why it was taking so long to get the computers workin
        • we should just higher a bunch of electrical engineers

          It scares me to think that our rockets might be designed by someone who can't spell "hire". Attention to detail....

  • A baguette? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Quantus347 (1220456) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @03:06PM (#34116334)
    Did a baguette from the future fall into the wiring again?
  • Holy shit man, what's with the summaries lately?? Redundancy all around, everywhere.
  • ... ISTR that each time there has been a shuttle disaster, it was during winter.

    These fuckin things are old and rickety, and I don't think they should be permitted to launch when ambient overnight temperatures are lower than, say, 45 degrees. Not hard most of the year in south Florida.

  • NASA should just buy truckloads of Viagra. It will help them get it up.

  • Scrap it now and put it out of its misery, its already put the space program back 30 years
  • by dominious (1077089) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @01:22AM (#34121476)
    So the universe doesn't allow this to happen because it's a paradox and that would mean the end of the wo

    Oh, the Shuttle Launch is delayed... Sorry, wrong thread.

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