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SpaceX Launch To International Space Station Delayed For Code Tweaks 97

RogerRoast writes "The first private spaceship launch to the International Space Station has been delayed, possibly by at least a week, the vehicle's makers announced Monday. The commercial spaceflight company SpaceX was set to launch its Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket April 30 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida." The article quotes SpaceX lead Elon Musk's twittered explanation: "Am pushing launch back approx a week to do more testing on Dragon docking code. New date pending coordination with @NASA."
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SpaceX Launch To International Space Station Delayed For Code Tweaks

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  • I have waiting for patches to install. They always seem to take forever.

  • Release schedules (Score:4, Insightful)

    by azalin ( 67640 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @08:58AM (#39780811)
    When is any project ever on time? It's not like they can release beta grade software and release an automatic update to fix it later. If they mess this up, it's going to cost them and maybe, just maybe the engineers plea for proper testing has been answered (a little late though)
    • ...and maybe, just maybe the engineers plea for proper testing has been answered (a little late though)

      Not late. Hopefully, just in time. Late would be after launch and, then uh oh...

  • Yikes! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @08:59AM (#39780819)

    "Last minute code tweaks" never go well.

    • Re:Yikes! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Like2Byte ( 542992 ) <> on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @09:08AM (#39780869) Homepage


      Reminds me of that song, "99 instances of bugs in the code..."

      99 instances of bugs in the code...
      99 instances of bugs, ....
      code one out, mark it out,
      106 instances of bugs in the code...
      106 instances of bugs in the code...
      106 instances of bugs, ....

    • by Megane ( 129182 )
      But they're a lot worse when you have to send updates to an already deployed system. LEO is one of the remotest of remote sites. It's kind of hard to get the janitor to walk up and to push the reset button for you. I think a week delay to get it right is a lot better than "ship it and we'll push an update later".
      • Thats why all LEO devices need advanced ILO or DRAC licenses. Can I be CTO now?

      • by sycodon ( 149926 )

        "Last minute code tweak" to me, means changing the code at the very last minute.

        They say a week, but it seems that with something so complex any change in code would require a complete rerunning of all of the regression tests, a complete detailed examination of the results plus a review by whatever group provides oversight.

        Try to get that all done in one week under a drop dead deadline...recipe for disaster.

    • What about last minute code tweaks that save a ~$1M account, and work so well that within 3mos are rolled out to 90% of customers?

      I agree with you, but never is a strong word.

      • by sycodon ( 149926 )

        I'd call that pulling your ass out of the fire at the very last minute.

        • Not exactly. The bug was on their end, I just added a feature that avoided their bug, and it was a feature that lots of others found reduced confusion so everyone wanted it.

          • by sycodon ( 149926 )

            Well, You Da Man in that case.

            Strictly speaking though, your tweak should have under gone the full test and review process. But then, while we read about those things, very few companies actually have them.

            • In theory, yes, it should have gone through more extensive testing. But business timelines don't always allow that.

              I cultivated a great relationship with our QA dept. While I had the ability and authority to bypass QA and put something in production, I only did that in one or two emergencies over 16 years. The rest of the time, I made sure my code went through QA, even if it was an abbreviated test, and I (almost) always gave them a list of things I thought they should test, to which they would add their ow

      • Last minute bug fixes are one thing. Last minute features are another.

        Last week I made a last-minute feature add that not only saved my job(the VP changed his mind about me), but got me promoted.

        I don't mind saying: It was legendary.

    • True - but where in the article does it say anything about making any code tweaks? All I saw was they want to do more hardware-in-the-loop testing and review the data. If all that passes muster, no code will change and presumably they will be go for launch. If it doesn't pass, THEN they may consider standing down to make code changes. Or, change operational procedures or ground software or ask for a waiver or any of a number of corrective actions. Maybe MSNBC updated the article after you read it ... or may
  • by pablo_max ( 626328 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @09:01AM (#39780829)

    Better they found it now and missed the deadline than went anyhow and exploded. You do not get too many second chances in space.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @09:08AM (#39780863) Journal
    Cowards!!! Launch early, launch often. (Or just give the coders the honor of being test pilots. That will make those code monkeys program it real good the first time...)
    • Cowards!!! Launch early, launch often.

      Seriously, if the rocket went wonky the most likely place for it to land would be on Titusville. Whatever it hit there would make an instant improvement.

    • by t4ng* ( 1092951 )
      Exactly this. It will be interesting to see how the "ship the beta, we'll fix it later with patches" style of development holds up in any renewed interest in space travel. So far it's not looking good.
      • You wouldn't want to take it to the extremes commonly practiced by the software industry; but it wouldn't entirely surprise me if the 'ship now, fix later' model, within limits, actually holds up pretty well as long as only robots and expendable people(and no radioisotopic generators) are involved...

        If space travel is going to be anything but a toy(outside of a few commercially viable niches for small satellites doing very valuable things in earth orbit), launch costs need to fall. If launch costs fall,
    • Well there's a wall full of post-it notes that will get them halfway there. Next week the scrum starts to get them the other half of the way.

  • updating to the latest version and rebooting? That's what vendors always tell us to do the second anything doesn't work perfectly.
    • I would suggest adding a watchdog to the system to handle that, but just ask Laika how well that works...
    • In the case of SpaceX, the problem probably is that they have too many windows open.
    • Here's the transcript from the launchpad.

      Robot #2: "Uh oh, he froze up again."
      Robot #3: "Try control, alt, delete!"
      Robot #4: "Jiggle the cord!"
      Robot #5: "Turn him off and on!"
      Robot #6: "Clean the gunk out of the mouse!"
      Fry: "Call technical support!"
      Robot #2: "Ok, ok, he's back online."

  • NASA behind this (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Not that SpaceX is infallible - but I think it's NASA behind this requiring an insane amount of testing. They employ the Monte Carlo method of testing which basically tests every (or at least a random sample) value of each input variable and the combinations there of. I don't care who you are, but that method of testing is going to result in "issues" coming to the surface. The problem is that the issues will be extremely rare if not practically impossible. And Musk is not in a position to criticize the

    • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @09:36AM (#39781079)

      Space travel has a long history of "extremely rare if not practically impossible" issues coming up to bite you. Missions have been lost because of a single missing comma in the code. So, there is reason for this caution, and neither you nor Elon Musk is going to be able to change it.

    • Can't say I blame them for all the testing, given the potential risks involved. It's frustrating as hell to put up with the delays, but we space geeks ought to be used to that by now.

      One thing I'm curious about is whether or not they're going to try recovering the booster stages on this launch. Musk has said in the past that they're going to "keep trying until we get it right," but with all they've got riding on this mission already, I wouldn't be surprised if they skip that in order to concentrate everythi

    • by luis_a_espinal ( 1810296 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @10:05AM (#39781333) Homepage

      Not that SpaceX is infallible - but I think it's NASA behind this requiring an insane amount of testing. They employ the Monte Carlo method of testing which basically tests every (or at least a random sample) value of each input variable and the combinations there of. I don't care who you are, but that method of testing is going to result in "issues" coming to the surface. The problem is that the issues will be extremely rare if not practically impossible. And Musk is not in a position to criticize them, since he wants their business for cargo and crew services.

      Not saying this kind of testing isn't valuable, but it doesn't lend itself well to schedules.

      This is how you test mission critical systems. No, this is how you must test mission critical systems, regardless of schedules. The key adjective here is "mission critical". This ain't a Heroku web deployment just so you know.

    • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @10:35AM (#39781657)

      Life support systems require more rigorous testing than simple Monte Carlo. They generally require component testing, bounds case testing, and branch path analysis of the code so that every line of code gets hit during testing.

      I've worked on two projects that qualified as life support systems; one was an MRI console for a GE Medical Systems MRI machine (back when it was still being called NMR before it was politically corrected to remove the word "Nuclear"), and the second was a blood gas analyzer. Incorrect operation of the code in either of those cases could have resulted in someone dying as a result of a doctor getting misinformation.

      The amount of testing and the rigor of the testing involved in both of those projects was unbelievable. Even then, we were required to carry liability insurance out the wazoo on both projects in case we screwed up the code. There's a reason medical equipment is so expensive.

      Space systems that can ram into an occupied space station, and which are intended to some day carry humans to orbit qualify as life support, even if they are being sent up with a load of supplies instead of a human crew. Monte Carlo won't cut it any more than it will for a system call fuzzer trying to find a sequence of three system calls in a row that , if they are called with precisely the right parameters, will trigger a kernel panic.

      -- Terry

    • by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @10:42AM (#39781743)

      NASA and Russia are extremely cautious when it comes to anything ISS-related for very good reason. If this thing really screwed up and seriously damaged ISS to the point where they had to abandon it, it would probably end the era of human spaceflight and lead to big budget cuts for both agencies.

  • by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @09:23AM (#39780995)

    "ISS Seriously Damaged Because That Fucking Moron Peter Forgot To Do Garbage Collection."

  • How does a statement that they're doing "more testing" turn into "fixing bugs"?

    All the posts on here are all ZOMG, buuuug fixes!

    The tweet and article say no such thing. And if you haven't finished your test cycle, best to delay and finish it. That's not rocket science.... or is it?

    • Rumours are that they've been getting too many erroneous abort codes during testing. It may not be true, but it seems a reasonable inference that solving such a problem would have required changes to the code, changes that themselves required testing. Hence the delay.

  • I am surprised. I don't remember very well what were the launch windows for LEO orbits, so this might not be applicable... But for GTO orbits, it was either one or two days of delay if there was a minor preparation glitch on the launcher, or something like one month if a new flight software had to be generated and qualified... Anyone knows more about this?
    • For the ISS, launch windows are less than 10 minutes with about one window every day. This lasts a few weeks then there's a couple week period without a window.
  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @09:59AM (#39781283) Homepage
    im sure you'd see git comments like
    --removed sound-activated LED code
    restored sound activation code. needed for

    --removed callbacks, class for rancilio espresso maker. please stop this.
    --added pizza ordering support for dominos, stub for pizza hut

    --removed food related code for pizza, chinese food, references to 'the luther'.
    -- removed orbital re-entry positioning code. two can play this game
    -- re-added orbital code. this is not funny. please stop.
    -- added DMX512 dance-floor lighting control module, arduino support for twitter potted plant control
  • by strack ( 1051390 )
    guess it really will be a diablo 3 launch.
  • Can he just delay by one week? There are only small launch windows for Cape Canaveral launches to ISS. Does somebody know the approximate window size for a Falcon 9+Dragon launch to ISS? Also from this [] ISS launch schedule, there is a launch of a soyuz at may 15th so if he delays too much, he will probably have to move the launch date back by at least a month.

    I wonder what the requirements are at NASA versus SpaceX concerning mission failure probabilities? Reaching a 90% chance of success is probably easy b

    • by Anonymous Coward

      A launch window happens approximately once per day, give or take a few minutes.

      The ISS has a fairly static orbit as far as it matters for this purpose, so you only have to wait for the earth to rotate to the right angle under it. It reliably does that with every rotation.

      However, it is important to note that you can't just casually put off a launch for anther day, because for every delay you have, you're going to need to calculate a new course for the rocket's guidance system and make sure you haven't fucke

    • by Mercano ( 826132 )
      There was a Atlas V scheduled to go up on the 5th, but that's now bumped up to the 3rd. I read over at NASASpaceFlight [] that Falcon 9 has a launch window approximately every three days from the Cape to ISS. has a worldwide launch calender []; you can see how many times this flight has been delayed. It was originally scheduled for June 6th of last year, so it'll be just a day shy of 11 months behind schedule, if there aren't any further reschedules.
    • by ClayJar ( 126217 )

      The Space Shuttle had a launch window of approximately plus or minus five minutes from in-plane, but for the Falcon 9/Dragon COTS-2/3 launch to ISS, they have an instantaneous launch window. From the comments on the COTS-1 webcast, it sounded as if Dragon flights to ISS would have instantaneous launch windows, but I have no data to know whether this is merely a constraint for the initial flights or a constraint for all future COTS/CRS launches.

      For the April 30th window (which will not be used), there was a

  • TFA says the delay is for hardware in the loop testing, not code tweaking.

    One hopes normal end-to-end testing was done long before this, but given the costs and logistics of assembling the actual hardware this final phase of testing pretty much has to wait until shortly before launch.

    I'm a developer and am pretty much in the camp of "if it complies and boots, ship it", but I appreciate the need for QA. When you're shooting a missile at a fragile target keeping a crew alive 200 miles above earth just maybe

  • Tests, not tweaks! (Score:5, Informative)

    by wjsteele ( 255130 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @11:20AM (#39782267)
    No where in Elon's Tweet or in the referenced article does it say they need to tweak the code... it says they need more time to "test" it.

    • by joh ( 27088 )

      If the testing wouldn't carry the risk of having to change some code (or tweak some parameters) they could just stop testing and launch already.

  • What am I missing? I thot the commercial companies were all building a "kind of" plane or space ship since they'd be re-useable. Why/when did they fall back to rockets?

    • Actually, only a few companies working on non-orbital vehicles are designing aircraft with wings... since they spend a lot of their time in the air... in space, you don't need wings. It's much more efficient to design a vehicle without them if all you're doing is shooting it up on a rocket and landing it under a parachute (after reentry, which also causes problems for wings.)

  • by joh ( 27088 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @02:57PM (#39785775)

    NASAspaceflight [] has a much better article than TFA. Go read it, if you're interested in details and facts.

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