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Japan Space

Japan Controls Rocket Launch With Just 8 People and 2 Laptops 94

Posted by Soulskill
from the can't-even-make-a-baseball-team-out-of-that dept.
SpaceGhost writes "Sky News reports that the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) has launched an orbital telescope on a new generation rocket from the Uchinoura Space Centre in Kagoshima, in southwestern Japan. The Epsilon rocket uses an onboard AI for autonomous launch checks by the rocket itself (launch video). A product of renewed focus on reducing costs, the new vehicle required two laptops and a launch team of eight, compared to the 150 people needed to launch the previous platform, the M-5. Because of the reduced launch team and ease of construction, production and launch costs of the Epsilon are roughly half that of the M-5. The payload, a SPRINT-A telescope, is designed for planetary observation."
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Japan Controls Rocket Launch With Just 8 People and 2 Laptops

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 14, 2013 @12:51PM (#44849603)

    ...to control Fukushima.

    Japanese efficiency wins again.

  • ..the launches will be controlled by a repurposed Senior Care Autonomous Robotic Employee (SCARE) built by Hitachi Heavy Industries, that simply requires a ROM to be reflashed with its launch program, taking only two minutes and a WiFi connection.

    It will look glorious, hooked into the launch control board, with its vacuum nozzle attachment and pill dispenser hanging off the side, as it guides the majestic rocket through the night sky.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 14, 2013 @12:54PM (#44849627)

    Meanwhile in America... 45%? [slashdot.org] Please... Don't make me laugh!

    From 150 people to 8! That's almost 94.7% gone. See that, America? That's how you do it...

  • So.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by ZipXap (2773541) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @12:57PM (#44849655) Homepage
    It now takes less people to launch a Japanese rocket than to maintain a Windows server in the data center....
    • Re:So.... (Score:5, Funny)

      by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @01:24PM (#44849861)

      It now takes less people to launch a Japanese rocket than to maintain a Windows server in the data center....

      That's because the rocket is less likely to careen off-course and explode.

      • by kermidge (2221646)

        That's odd, I'd long thought there was still a difference between career and careen.

        Well, that's alright. As English contracts, a smaller vocabulary is easier to carry around; I've lost thousands of words since the 70's and I feel lighter.

        Got a chuckle from your comment, thanks for that.

        • That's odd, I'd long thought there was still a difference between career and careen.

          Well, that's alright. As English contracts, a smaller vocabulary is easier to carry around; I've lost thousands of words since the 70's and I feel lighter.

          Got a chuckle from your comment, thanks for that.

          There is. To "careen" you tilt. To "career", you speed up. Since the rocket's already careering, what you're more concerned about is the careening.

      • But if I called just one of them on their cell phone, and asked him for directions to North Korea., will the new headline read '5 people launch missile to Pyongyang'?

  • The USN boomer force was launching sixteen missiles with just twenty odd people as far back as 1960. (Yes, there were other people on the boat, but they were no more part of the launch crew than the crane operators at Uchinoura.) Today, it's twenty four missiles with the same crew.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Sorry, but you failed to mention how many laptops they were using. Seeing as how one of the main points here was that, instead of using huge, stationary appliances, they were able to rely on only 2 laptops to do the job adequately, I feel like what you're saying doesn't really invalidate this launch.

      Also, keep in mind that "20 something" is still over twice as many people as 8.

    • Placing a satellite in an exact orbit requires more precision than 1960s SLBMs could muster, as well as more power.
      • That's why I pointed out today's figures as well - because they have that kind of precision. Not that precision or power are in any way related to the number of launch control crew required in the first place.

    • The USN boomer force was launching sixteen missiles with just twenty odd people as far back as 1960. (Yes, there were other people on the boat, but they were no more part of the launch crew than the crane operators at Uchinoura.) Today, it's twenty four missiles with the same crew.

      Missiles are expendable. A certain percentage (30% or so?) of malfunctions (or simply non-hits) is expected. In space launches, you often have unique cargo, and even though there's insurance, you really don't want to cash it in.

    • Don't call them 'odd'; you could hurt their sensitivities. Let's call them talented.

  • M-5 got unplugged, again? Daystrom is really going to wig out this time...

  • Small solid rocket (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EdgePenguin (2646733) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @01:35PM (#44849949) Homepage
    The epsilon rocket is a) tiny and b) entirely solid fueled. This kind of high level of automation might not translate well to more complex and larger rockets. Bear in mind also that this is just the launch crew. Manufacturing the rocket is likely still labour intensive.
    • by MtViewGuy (197597) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @02:57PM (#44850559)

      True, but note that the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket doesn't need a gigantic ground crew at the launch site like you needed with the Space Shuttle. In fact, the crew needed to assemble, test and launch the United Launch Alliance Delta IV or Atlas V rockets are much smaller than they used to be, thanks to much more efficient rocket assembly buildings.

      • by msobkow (48369)

        NASA has never exactly been a cost-effective operation. Plus they can point to the massive teams used by the moon launches way back when and still say "See, we reduced our staff!"

        • by peragrin (659227)

          while true. the thing is NASA is a government organization. it is ruled by bureaucracy and politicians , which means you need at least 3 managers, and one over sight person per 5 regular employees.

          Now considering NASA was doing all of Apollo by hand on a computer that was less advanced than a TI-83 (and that was ground side) then it makes sense.

          The trick is even with the shuttles NASA wasn't given the funding to cut employees by using automation. the Politicians refused it as it was pork for their distr

          • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @06:32PM (#44852093)

            Now considering NASA was doing all of Apollo by hand on a computer that was less advanced than a TI-83 (and that was ground side) then it makes sense.

            Actually, NASA had initially several (five?) IBM 7094-II computers and later five IBM System/360 Model 75Js for the Apollo project. I also believe that both sets of machines had some nifty RT extensions both in HW and in the OS. The former ones had about 0.35 MFLOPS, and I think 32 Kwords of 36-bit memory; the latter ones had something like 1 MiB of 32-bit memory and something over 1 MFLOPS each. Your TI-83, on the other hand, has 32 KB of memory - a quarter the core memory of a 7094-II - and I can't imagine its 6 MHz Z-80 doing a double-precision floating point operation in under 20 cycles, which you'd need to match the 7094-II's performance. Don't even think about comparing your TI-83 to the Model 75 (and even *that* was outdated when NASA started receiving model 91 (that packed whopping 16 MFLOPS) tops when the first missions were going to Moon - obviously, they didn't upgrade mid-project).

          • by dbIII (701233)

            Now considering NASA was doing all of Apollo by hand on a computer that was less advanced

            You've got X years to get to the moon with no launcher, lander or capsule is the sort of project that requires shitloads of people. Once you've built on the shoulders of giants things get easier.

            Later NASA was a victim of it's success as it became a parking lot for people like the Bush appointee aged in his mid 20s that started telling the scientists what to write. Large budgets attract people like flies, and people

      • by dindi (78034)

        The Millennium Falcon needed no ground crew at all, just a wookie and a pistol slinging smuggler.. Who by the way shot first.

    • by Urkki (668283)

      The epsilon rocket is a) tiny ..

      If it launched a payload to orbit, it can't be tiny... No rocket able to do that is tiny.

    • by gagol (583737)
      Americans are fat, Asians are slim? (Aiming for funny, I am fat)
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @01:40PM (#44849987) Homepage

    The Epsilon rocket is three stages of solid rocket booster, like an ICBM. So there's no fueling on the pad, no plumbing, no cryogenics, and no turbopumps. The launch team has a lot less to do than with liquid-fueled rockets.

    • If it saves money, why not? I think one of Elon Musk's big money savers was not going for maximum efficiency with liquid hydrogen fuel - kerosene is obviously a lot easier to handle.
      • by sahonen (680948)
        The big win with kerosene over LH2 is that kerosene is much denser, so a) your tanks can be smaller and b) it's much easier to generate high levels of thrust since you don't have to move as much liquid through your engine.
    • by LourensV (856614) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @04:42PM (#44851345)

      The Epsilon rocket is three stages of solid rocket booster, like an ICBM. So there's no fueling on the pad, no plumbing, no cryogenics, and no turbopumps. The launch team has a lot less to do than with liquid-fueled rockets.

      They're also proudly proclaiming how quickly they can prepare the rocket for launch. I don't think that these features are coincidental, and I don't think that cost savings are the only driver behind developing this thing. North Korea's leadership is a bit unstable at times, it may have nuclear weapons, and Japan has had North Korean rockets fly over its territory before. It's a serious potential threat to them.

      Since they lost in WWII, Japan has been very pacifist, but in recent years it has begun to expand its military activities a bit, taking part in a UN peace keeping mission for instance. Outright developing an ICBM would probably go a bit too far at this point, but making a civilian rocket that can be launched at short notice with a small crew and has the range to hit North Korea could just be an acceptable compromise between mitigating the NK threat and not rocking the domestic political boat too much with overly aggressive military moves.

    • by mspohr (589790)

      Just light it and run!
      We don't need no stinkin' computers.

  • ...you see a huge hoard of people launching a spacecraft, or massive ground support infrastructure, you are looking at obsolete technology.

    A step in the right direction.

    • "...you see a huge hoard of people launching a spacecraft, or massive ground support infrastructure, you are looking at obsolete technology."

      I'm not so sure. I think what you're seeing is a public relations and media event. Really, how exciting would it have been to see any NASA launch with just a few engineers sitting around a table? People want to see the big board and lots of people wearing headsets sitting at workstations labeled with the subsystem name.

    • by dbIII (701233)
      Or a highly experimental one, like the saturn five was, which is why it required so much support.
      The cutting edge requires more work which is why it requires more people. Established technology, like these solid rocket stages, is better understood so requires less people.

      Thus I think you are getting it backwards although I'd substitute "ready for large scale production" for your "obsolete".
  • by quax (19371) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @02:49PM (#44850495)

    Anybody knows how the new commercial space launchers do in comparison?

    • Anybody knows how the new commercial space launchers do in comparison?

      Don't know about the current crop. But back in the late '80s AMROC controlled their launches without the classic room-full-of-custom-consoles. Instead they hacked up their "consoles" as a GUI on one instance of the state-of-the-art windowing interface computer of the time - a Macintosh (what they'd now call a "Macintosh Classic").

      I hear that, when they showed up at Goddard for their test shot, the usual control room crew was standing a

  • I guess they are extreme programming fans.

  • I applaud them on bringing down the launch crew requirements. Space travel is never going to open up for the masses if you need thousands of personnel to launch 7 individuals every few months. But while this rocket is bringing down the requirements on one front its severely limiting the spacecraft capabilities on another. At least according to the info I can pull up the Epsilon rocket uses solid rocket fuel for pretty much every stage (except maybe the fourth optional stage). While I am sure that massiv

  • Team reduced from 150 to 8. The unlucky 142 remaining PhD will line up to become scientific journalists, producing rounds of papers about the latest molecule that will make us live longer, treat cancer, and/or obesity.
  • SPRINT-A telescope, is designed for planetary observation

    Perhaps recent revelations have made me cynical, but would the planet happen to be earth?

  • Now even the Rocket Scientists are being "kaizened" out of a job. Next it'll be Brain Surgeons, and then we'll be all out of metaphors for doing difficult stuff.

    --
    .nosig

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