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Ulysses Spacecraft on its Last Legs 121

doconnor writes "JPL announced that Ulysses' mission will be ending after 17 years. The power generated by the decay of a radioactive isotope has been slowly decreasing. To conserve power its main transmitter was shut off. Unfortunately due to a fault in its power supply it cannot be turned back on. The team plans to continue operating the spacecraft in its reduced capacity, using the alternate S-band transmitter, for as long as they can over the next few weeks." Congratulations to all the geniuses involved in this one.
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Ulysses Spacecraft on its Last Legs

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  • Geniuses (Score:5, Insightful)

    by outlander78 ( 527836 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @01:08PM (#22527508)

    I'm not sure if the congratulatory statement was sarcastic or sincere, but I hope it was sincere. From the article:

    "The joint NASA and European Space Agency Ulysses mission to study the sun and its influence on surrounding space is likely to cease operations in the next few months. The venerable spacecraft, which has lasted more than 17 years or almost four times its expected mission lifetime, is succumbing to the harsh environment of space."

    Further on the article states that the lifetime was expected to be five years, so three times, not four, but still, a spacecraft tripling its expected useful life is a strong testament to the skill of its engineers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      ...so three times, not four, but still, a spacecraft tripling its expected useful life is a strong testament to the skill of its engineers.

      Our Martian Robotic Geologists' (Spirit and Opportunity) primary mission was only supposed to last 90 days. And they landed in 2004. So that makes them somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 times older than they're supposed to be.

      This kinda makes me wonder if NASA and other space agencies purposely over-estimate the useful lives of their spacecraft.

      • Re:Geniuses (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Mr. Underbridge ( 666784 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @01:26PM (#22527658)

        This kinda makes me wonder if NASA and other space agencies purposely over-estimate the useful lives of their spacecraft.

        I think it's a testament to how difficult it is to estimate the challenges of space exploration. To me, keeping a vehicle operational on another planet we've never set foot on with no opportunity for maintenance sounds damn hard. Doing that for the first time, I imagine 90 days sounded like a stretch. The fact that they've done it for over 3 years to me is one of the great successes of space exploration.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        The Engineers Credo:
        How long will it take? Double it, then add in a factor of two for contingency.
        How long will it last? Halve it, then take a factor of two for contingency.
        If it moves, oil it. If it doesn't move, hit it with a hammer 'til it does move, then oil it.

        Obligatory Trek Quote

        Kirk: "How long to re-fit?"
        Scotty: "Eight weeks. But you don't have eight weeks, so I'll do it for you in two."
        Kirk: "Do you always multiply your repair estimates by a factor of four?"
        Scotty: "How else

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by simcop2387 ( 703011 )
          If it moves, oil it. If it doesn't move, hit it with a hammer 'til it does move, then oil it. that should be if its supposed to move, otherwise you stick on as much duct tape as possible until it doesn't move.
      • Re:Geniuses (Score:5, Informative)

        by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @01:38PM (#22527732) Homepage Journal
        This kinda makes me wonder if NASA and other space agencies purposely over-estimate the useful lives of their spacecraft.

        It's easy to make such a statement if you didn't know the history of rovers & other landers.

        Before the Rovers Spirit & Opportunity, there were NO rovers that lasted 90 days on another planet before dying. The predecessor, Sojourner, lasted 83 days. Before that, I think the record was 56 days. 90 days was a good goal. They thought the solar panels would just get covered with dust. They could have put on dust cleaners, but that has a weight penalty, and they decided to use the weight for science payload. They got lucky when they found they can get cleaned from the wind storms.
        • Re:Geniuses (Score:4, Interesting)

          by MBCook ( 132727 ) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Saturday February 23, 2008 @02:17PM (#22528030) Homepage
          What about the Lunakhod [wikipedia.org] rovers? Lunakhod 1 lasted 322 earth days, Lunakhod 2 lasted 4 months.
          • Re:Geniuses (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Adambomb ( 118938 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @02:20PM (#22528050) Journal
            Personally I wouldn't even try to compare lunar rovers to planetary rovers, as an environment of extremely predictable temperature, no weather or atmosphere, is definitely a lot easier to work with than even slight amounts of atmosphere and weather (as shown by the martian dust storms, and say, trying to get through venus' cloud layer).

            • Re:Geniuses (Score:5, Interesting)

              by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @04:35PM (#22529000) Homepage
              Predictable doesn't mean easy. Lunar temperatures have something like a +/- 250 degree temperature range between day and night, and the day/night cycles are 2 weeks long each, meaning your rover gets really hot soaked alternating with really cold soaked. Martian day/night temperatures are not so extreme, and the days/nights are only about 12-1/4 hours long each. The atmosphere helps moderate the temperature.

              Sure, Mars has winds where Luna doesn't, but given the thin atmosphere, it's not like you have to worry about them blowing the rover away or anything. As it turned out, they were just right to blow accumulated dust off the solar panels. Yes, the wind means dust might be more likely to get into the mechanisms, but at least it's smooth rounded dust. Lunar dust is jagged fractal surfaces all the way down, highly abrasive; the saving grace is that it only gets kicked up by your wheels spinning or a nearby impact. (That's another difference -- the Martian atmosphere is enough that you don't have to worry about micrometeorite impacts, which you do on the Moon.)

              Venus is of course a different question; nobody's gotten a Venus-lander to last for more than a few hours. The surface temperature is twice as hot as a pizza oven (hotter, in fact, than Mercury's surface), and the pressure is about the same as 3000 feet underwater.
              • Touche, I wasnt thinking of the other dangers we DO have when there is no atmosphere present =).
              • Heh, proof positive of how bent it must be to browse slashdot at >0, or even -1 eh? I do not get how i keep getting modded up well AFTER you properly shot my argument right to hell heh.
                • by AJWM ( 19027 )
                  Well, you were right that the environment on the Moon is more predictable than Mars. I just pointed out that predictable and easy aren't necessarily synonymous. In some ways they could be, others not.

                  But I've long given up trying to predict what moderators will do -- I've had stuff +4 insightful and -1 troll, obviously that post ticked off somebody with mod points.
            • Don't forget Venus's atmosphere is toxic acids including sulfuric and nitric acids. The windows in the lander sent to Venus were manufactured diamond. Still, it is inevitable that any lander there would quickly be eaten by the acids in the atmosphere. The fact that Ulysses survived 17 years in space with high radiation, at almost absolute zero and probably many micro-meteorite collisions is to be congratulated. How many 17 year old cars do you see that have never seen the inside of a repair shop? How many 1
          • You're right, I screwed that up.
        • Sojourner, lasted 83 days.

          Pathfinder lasted 83 days. Sojourner could still be operating as far as we know.

          • Pathfinder lasted 83 days. Sojourner could still be operating as far as we know.

            I suppose that's a valid point, maybe not much is known about the actual fault, but I really doubt the rover is still operating.
      • Re:Geniuses (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @01:47PM (#22527774) Homepage

        This kinda makes me wonder if NASA and other space agencies purposely over-estimate the useful lives of their spacecraft.


        There's a hidden premise here. The premise is we can know the expected lifetime of something that:
        • We never fully get to test each probe in the environment it experiences.
        • We've only made (I'm guessing) less than 100 of these probes ever, each of which is very different and experiences very different environments.
        • We don't even know exactly the environment each probe is going to experience.
        • The technology itself is constantly changing over the last 40-50 years of sending out robotic probes.


        Which do you think is more likely?

        The engineers all know how long the thing is going to last, but lie about it to make themselves and NASA look good.

        or

        They really don't know how long it's going to last, but make some very conservative estimates about the above unknowns, to make sure it'll last at least as long as the time frame it's supposed to. Sometimes those guesses turn out to make the thing last a lot longer than it needed to be.
        • by Tiger4 ( 840741 )
          or

          Sometimes you get the Pounds and Ounces and Newtons and Pascals confused.

          As the Air Force loudly proclaims, "We live in fame or go down in flame" [af.mil]

          Usually they get it right, but when they screw up...

        • by instarx ( 615765 )
          The engineers all know how long the thing is going to last, but lie about it to make themselves and NASA look good.[?]
          You meant that to be your absurd choice, but I think it is actually the way it is - they underestimate the life-expectancy to make themselves look good; but it isn't the engineers, its the administrators. I think it is obvious that they set ridiculously low estimates so they can define the mission as successful as quickly as possible - thier future funding depends on it.

          Its clear that they
      • by Naatach ( 574111 )

        This kinda makes me wonder if NASA and other space agencies purposely over-estimate the useful lives of their spacecraft.
        It's called CYA. It's a sign of an experienced engineer.
      • Re:Geniuses (Score:5, Insightful)

        by v1 ( 525388 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @02:01PM (#22527892) Homepage Journal
        Although this is not a purely NASA project, NASA and every other spacecraft agency severely over-engineer their hardware. Most systems are at least redundant if not double redundant, and they incorporate numerous failsafes, fallbacks, and keep as many options open as possible at all times. If something breaks, unless you have the ability to work around it or fix it remotely, you're done. You can't just send a tech out to fix it.

        The rovers on mars almost died when their flash memory filled up, because they did not intend to survive long enough to gather so much data, that the capacity of their flash was deemed more than enough. This alone is good evidence that they aren't really intending for things to run this long, just sometime they do a really good job AND get really lucky. Go read about the Expensive Hardware Lobbing [anl.gov] to get an idea of just how easy it is to make a mistake, and how catastrophic such mistakes are. Even with how much care goes into these things, we still don't keep terribly good odds.

        I don't know all the reasons the rovers are still running, but I've heard several. The crippling flash space problem was averted because of an automatic reboot, in addition to an automatic failsafe mode, the combination of which allowed them to get in and clear disk space. The rover with the dead wheel, they were able to disengage its motor so it didn't eat up power and drag on the ground (not turning) and that again isn't something you'd necessarily ever expect to need to do, but they added that ability anyway and it paid off. I'd bet there are at least a dozen other "plan ahead" safeties that have saved their bacon too.

        From Mariner 2's entry on EHL: On September 8 17:50 UT the spacecraft suddenly lost its attitude control, which was restored by the gyroscopes 3 minutes later. The cause was unknown but may have been a collision with a small object. Then, on November 15, one solar panel failed. However, the probe got within 34,773 km of the planet on December 14 19:59:28.

        The odds of it hitting something out in space has to be incredibly slim, but they installed gyroscopes anyway, and as a result were able to continue the mission. You can't really factor that in when trying to calculate the life expectancy of a project like this. All you can do is build it the absolutely best you can, and hope you don't get mugged by too many problems at the same time.

        Although the ppl at NASA are certainly skilled, I don't think we can call any of them "experts" at this space exploration thing. They may be the best we've got, but lets face it, there's a lot we still don't know, and we're not able to build experience very quickly. We're total n00bs in space. I don't think we over-estimate anything, we just get lucky now and then. Building in failsafes and options gives us one or two more extra chances sometimes when something we do doesn't work, and that can turn a single 5 year mission into four or five learning experiences before it finally breaks beyond hope, rather than one.

        When Mariner 3 failed to eject its heat shield, that one mistake totally screwed the entire mission after a very long wait. Instead of tinkering with various ways to fix the problem remotely with your available options, Game Over. Wait another 5 years and try again. Those are the painful lessons they try to avoid by what is sometimes perceived as over-engineering or under-estimating.
        • The rovers on mars almost died when their flash memory filled up, because they did not intend to survive long enough to gather so much data, that the capacity of their flash was deemed more than enough.

          That's not an accurate representation of what happened. I think you are confusing Bill Gates with the MER crew. JPL never designs a spacecraft with 'more memory than it will ever use' because that's just not possible (you can't launch the weight of that much memory). In fact, all missions have to be de
        • by instarx ( 615765 )
          The odds of it hitting something out in space has to be incredibly slim, but they installed gyroscopes anyway, and as a result were able to continue the mission.

          That argument, and to a lesser extent your argument about the reprogramming capability of the Mar's Rovers, is falacious. The gyroscopes on Mariner were there to keep the spacecraft antennae oriented toward Earth. They were a necessary part of the mission, and were NOT installed on the off-chance that Mariner would hit something in space. The reb
      • by mbone ( 558574 )
        This kinda makes me wonder if NASA and other space agencies purposely over-estimate the useful lives of their spacecraft.

        I have been involved with space flight projects, and you always hope that they last "forever." However, that scares program offices and the budget types. So, you specify a short, sweet, do-able missions, get money for that, and, if you are successful, hope that you can get money to extend it. If you are not successful, well, then it didn't really matter, did it ?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by FlyingGuy ( 989135 )

        Hey genius, don't you mean, under estimate?

        That aside, lets take the problem straight on and consider the mars rovers. You are the engineer. You don't have anything remotely resembling a clue as the abrasive qualities or the dirt and dust on Mars. You have an inkling of a clue about wind and such, but Martian surface weather is still a pretty big mystery. You have to build a device that is mobile, must supply power to all kinds of instruments, it has to communicate to a orbiting platform that is not in

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Tablizer ( 95088 )
        This kinda makes me wonder if NASA and other space agencies purposely over-estimate the useful lives of their spacecraft.

        It appears that if the craft survives the initial launch and landing (if there is one), then lifetimes often exceed expectations. Thus, the average estimated lifetime is sort of distorted by initial problems during launch and landing. It is kind of like how infant deaths distort average human lifespan statistics such that they usually exclude them.

        Further, various instruments seem to be
      • by NotBorg ( 829820 ) *

        This kinda makes me wonder if NASA and other space agencies purposely over-estimate the useful lives of their spacecraft.

        Kirk: "Do you always multiply your repair estimates by a factor of four?"
        Scotty: "How else to maintain my reputation as a miracle worker?"

      • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )

        This kinda makes me wonder if NASA and other space agencies purposely over-estimate the useful lives of their spacecraft.
        Two words : factory specifications.
        You know that this electric engine designed to work between 2V and 10V will still be working well under 15V and will only begin to make strange noises and smoke around 30...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by JohnSearle ( 923936 )

      Further on the article states that the lifetime was expected to be five years, so three times, not four, but still, a spacecraft tripling its expected useful life is a strong testament to the skill of its engineers.

      Who exactly makes determines the expected life of these things? Is it the scientists who are working on them? 'Cause if you want to be a glass-half-empty kind of guy, then you could say that it's a poor testament to their ability to predict expectancies, rather than to exceed them.

      - John

      • by solitas ( 916005 )
        mod parent Insightful
      • by Dunbal ( 464142 )
        INAE, but if you watch Star Trek at all you know that space engineers always leave themselves a huge safety margin because this a) impresses the rest of the crew and b) makes them always right!

        It's kinda like your doctor - I'd rather tell you that I want to run some tests because I suspect disease, have you pay for such tests, and then have you breathe a sigh of relief when disease is ruled out than just tell you outright to stop being such a crybaby it's all in your head (except of course when it's pretty
      • by Teun ( 17872 )
        You must be a public servant or lawyer/ accountant.
      • Who exactly makes determines the expected life of these things?

        Nobody makes a determination of the expected life, absolutely nobody.

        It's all about a requirement for how long it HAS to last, not how long it WILL last.

        If you start a mission with a requirement that it has to last 20 years, you will never be able to afford that mission. If you start the exact same mission with a requirement that it has to last 2 years, then you have a chance. The possible lifetime is always something people think abo
      • "if you want to be a glass-half-empty kind of guy, then you could say that it's a poor testament to their ability to predict expectancies, rather than to exceed them."

        Except for the fact that there is a good deal of statistical uncertainty involved with predicting part failure. Two identically manufactured bearings will rarely ever fail at the same exact time. You might draw a dud or you might draw a super-bearing. The same way as a given atom of carbon-14 might decay in one millisecond or in a billion year
    • Your first mistake was in assuming that a slashdot editor would actually RTFA. On the other hand, it makes me feel better that the editors do the same thing I do when it comes to commenting on articles they haven't read.

      Cheers,
      Dave
    • by Benaiah ( 851593 )
      Engineering is efficiency. We don't typically have the luxury of overdesign.
      If you are told to build a mine to last 5 years and it lasts 17, the valuable ore would have been depleted long ago and the owner will complain that he paid too much because you overdesigned everything.
  • Lots of PhDs Awarded (Score:5, Interesting)

    by quanticle ( 843097 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @01:22PM (#22527634) Homepage

    If you go to the publications [esa.int] page for Ulysses, you'll see that about 60 PhDs have been awarded for Ulysses research, in addition to vast numbers of research papers and other article. By any count, this mission has been a success. Congratulations to all involved.

  • by Sodki ( 621717 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @01:28PM (#22527668)
    Penelope's gonna be mad when you return to Ithaca. According to the prophecy, you should have returned from Troy seven years ago!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've been reading "People" magazine and USA Today and the main point they say is that we cannot build more nuclear plants because radioactivity lasts forever. So this 17 years thing is just baloney.
    Probably another excuse so the US can shoot it down
    • These power sources [wikipedia.org] need isotopes with a low half-life (decades rather than millenia) in order to generate enough heat to be converted to electricity. What comes out of power plants has a much longer half-life so in not suitable for use in these craft. As for your second point, it is way too far away [wikipedia.org] to attempt to shoot "down" (blow up is a better term, since it is nowhere near any planets to fall towards) Why would they want to destroy it, anyways? It carries no classified data and it's likely to cause any
  • Congratulations to all the geniuses involved in this one.
    Indeed, it was monumental and all those geniuses should have their names go down in history as a matter of American pride.
    • should have their names go down in history as a matter of American pride.
      I thought to read: The joint NASA and European Space Agency Ulysses mission
      And as well:

      "We expect certain parts of the spacecraft to reach 2 degrees Celsius pretty soon," said Richard Marsden, ESA project scientist and mission manage.

      You can feel "American pride", but it makes you look stupid when it's misplaced.
      • Ulysses is a joint ESA/NASA mission. ESA manages the mission operations and provided the spacecraft, built by Dornier Systems, Germany (now Astrium). NASA provided the Space Shuttle Discovery for launch and the inertial upper stage and payload-assist module to put Ulysses in its correct orbit. NASA also provided the radioisotope thermoelectric generator which powers the spacecraft and payload.

        A combined international effort combining the work from different cultures with their different approaches is no e

      • by Zarf ( 5735 )

        You can feel "American pride", but it makes you look stupid when it's misplaced.
        All sarcasm aside. There were still Americans involved... and as a rule of thumb Americans celebrate drug-dealers that survive drive-by-shootings and then rap about it more. That is truly shameful. Or, should I take it you think that the European Space Agency should take no pride in this either?
    • by Teun ( 17872 )

      all those geniuses should have their names go down in history as a matter of American pride.
      Quote from the NASA Ulyssis page: "ESA-built Ulysses spacecraft to explore polar regions of Sun"
      http://www.esa.int/science/ulysses [esa.int]
      And I'm sure ESA is very grateful for the launch from a NASA shuttle.
      • by Zarf ( 5735 )

        And I'm sure ESA is very grateful for the launch from a NASA shuttle.
        Okay, you got me. oops. Americans suck. I suck. We all suck and all we can do is invade other countries and take their accomplishments as our own.
      • by Dusty ( 10872 )

        NASA also provided the Radio Isotope Generator. Almost all of the data from the Spacecraft comes via NASA's Deep Space Network [nasa.gov], rather than via ESTRACK [esa.int].

  • by cupofjoe ( 727361 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @01:46PM (#22527770)
    I'd like to hope that the "geniuses" comment featured in the article post, but I honestly can't tell. I think some of the previous posts point out, better than I can, how unseemly sarcasm would be in this case.

    For information on how successful the Ulysses mission has actually been, including its recent historic third pass over the north solar pole, Please refer to the Ulysses home page at JPL:

    http://ulysses.jpl.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]

    In any case, I'd like, perhaps, to suggest that the article post could either have been written, or otherwise reviewed, with more editorial skill. Then again, maybe that's asking too much. And that statement was not intended to be sarcastic.

    Cheers,
    --joe.
  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @01:49PM (#22527794)
    The mission of Ulysses was to use a Jupiter gravity assist to go out of the plane of the solar system, and
    thus observe the Sun from high solar latitudes. It fulfilled that mission and lasted long enough to observe both
    the North and South poles of the Sun. I would say it was fully successful.

    It is not uncommon for the death of old spacecraft to be messy or even sloppy - the Viking 1 lander was killed by a programming bug -
    but that does not detract from their earlier successes.
    • >It is not uncommon for the death of old spacecraft to be messy or even sloppy

      Yeah, and we all know what happened to Veeger (VGR), too.
  • by element-o.p. ( 939033 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @02:11PM (#22527978) Homepage
    I've got to say that I am blown away by this. Look at it in these terms: where I work, we are really proud of the fact that we've got a router that has an uptime of something like 2 1/2 years. It's in a data center in a very remote village in Alaska -- the only way in is via airplane. However, it is reachable, it's in a more or less climate-controlled environment and it has (relatively) stable power.

    By contrast, Ulysses is traveling in one of the most hostile environments we can imagine. Everything in the shade is approaching -400F (IIRC) while everything on the side facing the sun is getting blasted with the full fury of solar radiation. There's no way to reach it for maintenance. It's technology is 17 years old now. It has no protection other than its own skin from any micro-meteors it encounters. And it has been running continuously since it was launched. You've gotta admit that's an impressive feat. Yeah, I'd say the NASA engineers responsible for Ulysses are 1) definitely geniuses, and 2) very deserving of congratulations.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by Helevius ( 456392 )
      If you have a router with 2 1/2 years of uptime there's a good chance you're not the only person with administrator access now.
  • It's amazing how long they last without the effects of gravity and an atmosphere with dust and oxygen etc.
    Although maybe they're just rugged, the Mars rovers have lasted a long time on the surface of Mars.
  • Ulysses may have done a great job studying the sun, and may think it's hard work is over. But I suspect Ulysses is going to have a long and difficult 10-year journey home, for which it will eventually become better known than for its actual work it went out there for.

    Watch out other NASA satellites (I'm looking at you, Cassini): I'd advise not making any moves on Penelope [nasa.gov].
  • by StarfishOne ( 756076 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @02:32PM (#22528136)
    STS-41 Launch: ESA Ulysses Oct. 6, 1990
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqmYWgivsHw [youtube.com]

    Thank you Ulysses!
  • Is it me, or is everyone's sarcasm meter broken and pointing in the wrong direction? On the plus side, the pessimism meter's working.
  • by tm2b ( 42473 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @02:52PM (#22528284) Journal
    This was a triumph.
    I'm making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS!
    It's hard to over state my satisfaction.
  • Awesome! (Score:5, Informative)

    by jgoemat ( 565882 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @03:09PM (#22528412)

    Their site [esa.int] is amazing! It shows all of the instruments and links to the data they've provided directly. For instance, the DUST [esa.int] instrument measures dust impact events (imagine that). You can use the heliocentric latitude and longitude for these thousands of events to track the spacecraft position throughout it's 17 year journey. A nice readme [esa.int] file explains the structure of the data file [esa.int]. That's just one of the 12 scientific instruments. Very cool stuff...

    On another note, why are people saying four times as long as they expected? 17 years is closer to three times the original five years than four. You can't really say it's lasted four times as long as expected until after it has lasted 20 years.

  • Ulysses is beautiful (Score:4, Interesting)

    by caffiend666 ( 598633 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @03:13PM (#22528452) Homepage

    For those that havn't seen pictures, Ulysses is one of the most beautiful spacecraft ever built. Some future archeologist will love getting this for their museum: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/68/Ulysses_spacecraft.jpg [wikimedia.org]

    Covered mostly in gold and other types of metals, the craft looks more like something out of a movie than a real craft.
    • The difference of fate between our dark and shiny spacecraft is a rather sad one. All the probes destined to stay within the inner solar system are covered with reflective material to shield them from the radiation. The probes sent outwards are painted black to absorb as much radiation they can to stay warm. Though humans will hopefully be able to visit Ulysses again at some point in the distant future, as long as it's controllers put it in a stable orbit before they lose contact, Voyager 2 is likely to

    • by instarx ( 615765 )
      For those that havn't seen pictures, Ulysses is one of the most beautiful spacecraft ever built. Some future archeologist will love getting this for their museum: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/68/Ulysses_spacecraft.jpg [wikimedia.org]

      Well it certainly is shiney, but I'm not sure I can go along with it being "one of the most beautiful spacecraft ever built". It reminds me of the Larson cartoon of the baby warthog asking it's mother: "Mama, am I pretty?"
      • OK, which spacecraft do you consider beautiful? Most are more functional than aesthetically pleasing.
        • by instarx ( 615765 )
          OK, which spacecraft do you consider beautiful? Most are more functional than aesthetically pleasing./i>

          I certainly don't know them all and I only knew Ulysses from the link you provided, so the only beautiful spacecraft I can name off the top of my head was Sputnik.

          As for Ulysses - it looks an awfull lot like a commercial air conditioner with a wok glued to it to me. Mama, does this wok on my head make me pretty? :-)
  • Awesome! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    This is truly an awesome feat! Ulysses represents what mankind can do when it puts aside its petty differences and works for the betterment of all.

    Now, let's shoot it down before the Chinese do!
    • "Ulysses represents what mankind can do when it puts aside its petty differences and works for the betterment of all."

      No.
      It is a triumph of the American Military Industrial Complex, just like the Internet.
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Um, No it was built by the ESA, Not NASA. NASA did launch it though. NASA was supposed to build there own OOE (Out-Of-The-Ecliptic) space craft to fly under the sun while Ulysses was flying over the sun. Budget cuts got the better of it.
  • C'mon back to my place baby, I last longer than the Ulysses spacecraft...
  • Oblig (Score:1, Redundant)

    by PPH ( 736903 )
    In Soviet Russia, your work assignment is extended to 17 years.
  • I for one suggest more target practice.
  • Any chance the some of the remaining fuel can be used to change the trajectory to go closer to the sun, perhaps extending the life a bit more?
    • Any chance the some of the remaining fuel can be used to change the trajectory to go closer to the sun, perhaps extending the life a bit more?

      No because (a) the only remaining fuel is used for attitude control. It can't do anything significant about the trajectory and (b) Ulysses is not solar powered. It uses a Radioisotope Thermal Generator which is just running out of power.

  • Is it just me, or is it highly ironic that the Ulysses spacecraft (to study the sun) didn't use SOLAR power?
  • Ulysses is a great success, but let us look at its history a bit before we praise NASA.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_(spacecraft) [wikipedia.org]

    Ulysses was originally part of the International Solar Polar Mission (ISPM) where two spacecraft were to pass over the North and South poles of the Sun simultaneously. In 1981, NASA backed out. There would only be one ISPM spacecraft. I was at the Jet Propulsion Lab then, and while the NASA scientists and engineers were disappointed, the Europeans were well and truly pissed
    • by Zarf ( 5735 )

      Let us instead praise ESA and the European space scientists for this mission.

      I agree. It was very misleading to read the article on the NASA page and read the announcement from the JPL. How silly. It is also silly to interpret the one comment tagged on the end of the article by the Slashdot editor as sarcastic. It was clearly meant to praise the geniuses involved in the mission no matter what their national origin... and I happen think the folks that help change the course of human history by advancing our understanding of the universe don't really get their fair due no matter wher

    • by DarenN ( 411219 )
      The truly impressive part is that the Ulysses probe managed to get a look at both poles. I don't know if this fulfilled the original mission parameter, but it was well cool
  • Wow. It obits the sun, but can't get enough power from solar panels. That's kinda sad, says something about the feasibility of solar power, for terrestrial budget applications, compared to JPL's application with no adverse weather to block the sun, and presumably, the very best, most efficient cells. Curious idea, one end of the probe in constant sunlight, the other end in constant cold of space, heat pump anyone?
    • by Dusty ( 10872 )

      Solar power doesn't work too well, once you get outside the orbit of Mars. Unfortunately, Ulysses needs more power for heating the further it gets away from the Sun, which is when solar power delivers less power.

      It's difficult to keep one end in the dark and the other in the light, as Ulysses is spin stabilised, and keeps the high gain antenna pointed at the earth. The Radio Isotope Generator [wikipedia.org] uses thermocouples to generate power from a heat difference.

      • I see, so it's a solar probe, yet far from the sun, oh well.
        • by Dusty ( 10872 )

          The closest it got to the Sun was when it was built on earth (1 AU). After launch and the Jupiter swing by, the closest it gets to the Sun (perihelion) is 1.4 AU. It then heads back out towards the orbit of Jupiter at @5 AU. The unique part of Ulysses orbit, is that is out of the ecliptic plane, allowing the craft to look at the Sun's poles.

Marvelous! The super-user's going to boot me! What a finely tuned response to the situation!

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