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NASA's Broken Planet-hunter Spacecraft Given Second Life 55

Posted by Soulskill
from the right-on dept.
coondoggie writes "NASA today said it would fund the technology fixes required to make its inoperative Kepler space telescope active again and able to hunt for new planets and galaxies. Kepler, you may recall, was rendered inoperable after the second of four gyroscope-like reaction wheels, which are used to precisely point the spacecraft for extended periods of time, failed last year, ending data collection for the original mission. The spacecraft required three working wheels to maintain the precision pointing necessary to detect the signal of small Earth-sized exoplanets."
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NASA's Broken Planet-hunter Spacecraft Given Second Life

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  • by Noah Haders (3621429) on Friday May 16, 2014 @02:26PM (#47019667)
    did it at least complete its five year mission to explore strange new worlds?
  • by Squidlips (1206004) on Friday May 16, 2014 @02:32PM (#47019713)
    From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UTC_Aerospace_Systems): "Ithaco became notable for having manufactured the reaction wheels of the Kepler spacecraft, the Hayabusa spacecraft, the Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) satellite and the Dawn spacecraft, which developed problems or even failed" May its name live in infamy. http://science.slashdot.org/st... [slashdot.org]
    • by i kan reed (749298) on Friday May 16, 2014 @02:49PM (#47019869) Homepage Journal

      Is this: "crappy company delivers badly on contracts" or "company specializes in class of components that have a relatively high failure rate"?

      • by decsnake (6658) on Friday May 16, 2014 @03:18PM (#47020153) Homepage

        Is this: "crappy company delivers badly on contracts" or "company specializes in class of components that have a relatively high failure rate"?

        While RWs are way more complex than you would probably guess and have a history of failures across the industry, I still think in this case it is the former rather than the latter. After it started looking looking like there were systemic problems with Ithaco wheels, we developed our own wheels in-house. They haven't been perfect but there have been no mission ending problems with ours (so far; knocking on wood etc), unlike the Ithaco wheels.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      To be fair these are moving parts in space. If it can break it will.

    • by pr0t0 (216378)

      Ask yourself why an antenna won't deploy on a deep-space probe. Or ask how they could launch a $6 billion telescope without testing its mirror.
      --The Arrival

      • You mean the "testing' of the Hubble mirror by the manufacturer (Corning glass?) in which profit was more important than quality?
        • by khallow (566160)
          It's worth noting here that the mirror was of exceptional quality just ground to a very precise, wrong shape. By putting in a corrective lens, they were able to recover to close to its original specifications.

          Also, NASA was involved in the screw up as well, and that involvement definitely was not profit-driven.
        • by tomhath (637240)
          They didn't scrimp on testing the mirror; grinding, polishing, and testing was done completely to spec - they thought. The problem was that the instrument used to measure the curvature malfunctioned during the polishing step, resulting in the aberration.
          • by Isaac-1 (233099)

            Correction here someone put a washer on a rod in the wrong place bewteen the opitical elements while assembling a measuring template device used in place of proper full diamter optical testing.

    • by khallow (566160)
      Why are you badmouthing this company? Their gyroscopes would have failed sooner or later. They did so later and the spacecraft exceeded by a little its original design lifetime. The mission lasted just over four years till the second gyro failure as compared to its design lifetime of 3.5 years.
  • It's only hunting for broken planets?

  • ...it would not be possible to robotically attach new, external reaction wheels. It's a telescope, it has direction, could you not design something to attach externally and provide reaction control?

    • It's not in low earth orbit.
      Technically there isn't a real reason why.
      The problems basically boil down to it'd be too expensive to do it well.
      And that there is very interesting science to be done on the follow-on mission.

      The 'technology fixes' referred to are not hardware.
      They are instead of operating it pointed all the time at the normal bit of sky - which it can do, but now with two wheels only at ruinous cost in fuel - to instead point it at some point along the solar system equator.
      It can do this for up

      • by Bengie (1121981)
        I thought part of the reason it was so far out was to make it so it wasn't moving(relatively speaking) and to remove light from the Earth and Moon.
      • by Tablizer (95088)

        I wonder if it would be economical to create a semi-standard repair-kit satellite, for mass production, that could repair or supplement failing satellites using boost assist, stabilizer assist, power supplements, computational supplements/replacements, etc.

        It may require standardized ports and latches on the primary satellites, though, for hooking into and/or grappling.

        Call the mission "MacSkyver".

        • by iggymanz (596061)

          the Kepler craft isn't an earth orbiting satellite, it's WAY out there 11 million miles away (and getting further all the time) orbiting the Sun every 375 days

      • by iggymanz (596061)

        it's not in high earth orbit either, or any other kind of Earth orbit. it is orbiting the Sun in an Earth-trailing orbit. That's REALLY a whole 'nother kettle of fish for sending any kind of repair mission.

  • by Squidlips (1206004) on Friday May 16, 2014 @03:15PM (#47020125)
    This looks pretty bad for Ithaco: http://www.nature.com/news/the... [nature.com]: "ball bearings, which had already shown signs of pitting" BEFORE THE LAUNCH!!!!
  • Ever notice that original Star Trek for some reason never seemed to have enough or any Dilithium crystals on hand? Our space telescopes seem to have the same exact problem.

    Solution, why couldn't these telescopes launch with a few more gyroscopes held in reserve so that when one fails, another one is ready to take its place?

    • by Cpt_Kirks (37296)

      Weight.

    • They usually have backups where it is possible; notice they said 4 but only need 3.

      Given how many people thought Star Trek was too slow (helping produce the modern abomination) you want them to spend EXTRA time explaining all the spares and reserves are gone? (they do sometimes mention reserve and backups) Given the whole point of it was to push the plot forward it wouldn't matter if they have 50 spares because they'd all have to fail to create the crisis.

    • They did. It could compensate for a failed wheel, but it needed three to stay functional. It's got less than three, and is thus broken.

      What you should be asking instead is: Considering how much we dump into the Military Industrial Complex for "protection", why doesn't NASA have the funding for at least three or four of each type of satellite -- scan more sky in less time. I mean, just consider that the Chelyabinsk Meteor was ~25x Hiroshima (bonus: No long lasting ionizing radiation). Now, why the hell a

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2014 @04:41PM (#47021049)

    It's great for NASA that Kepler will continue operating in the ecliptic plane, where the newly discovered exoplanets might also see the Earth transit the Sun!

    The bad news behind the headline is that Kepler's second life will be "community driven", which is a polite way of saying there is essentially no funding for science, just operations. The Senior Review Panel report [nasa.gov] (pdf) notes:

    "The operation of the nation's space borne observatories is so severely impacted by the current funding climate in Washington that ... American pre-eminence in the study of the Universe from space is threatened to the point of irreparable damage if additional funds cannot be found to fill the projected funding gaps."

    The response from NASA [nasa.gov] (pdf) acknowledges:

    "The Kepler mission extension is approved for FY 2015-FY 2016 for K2 operations at a 10-percent reduction from the requested level; the full request cannot be accommodated within the constrained budget conditions."

    If you love what Kepler has done, you can help support some of the scientists behind the discoveries through their Non-profit Adopt a Star [whitedwarf.org] program.

  • Due to failure of the 2nd gyroscope, it can only find long, flat planets with names like "Pizza Centauri C", Pizza the Hut's home.

       

  • Does Linden Lab know about this?

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