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Russia To Save Its ISS Modules

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the reduce-reuse-recycle dept.

Space 280

jamax writes "According to the BBC, 'Russia is making plans to detach and fly away its parts of the International Space Station when the time comes to de-orbit the rest of the outpost. ... To facilitate the plan, RKK Energia, the country's main ISS contractor, has already started developing a special node module for the Russian segment, which will double as the cornerstone of the future station. ... Unlike many Nasa and European space officials, Russian engineers are confident that even after two decades in orbit, their modules would be in good enough shape to form the basis of a new space station. "We flew on Mir for 15 years and accumulated colossal experience in extending the service life (of such a vehicle)," said a senior Russian official at RKK Energia...' Is Russia the last country where engineers are not (yet) forced by corporations to intentionally produce designs that fail two days after warranty expires? There used to be a lot of equipment manufactured by various countries (Germany is the first one that comes to mind) that lasted virtually forever — old cars or weapons systems, but one rarely sees anything of the sort these days."

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280 comments

Before someone says it (5, Funny)

Norsefire (1494323) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066055)

Construction of the International Space Station began in 1998 [wikipedia.org]. The soviet Union collapsed in 1991 [wikipedia.org]. Thus, ISS Modules did not exist in Soviet Russia and did not "save you".

Re:Before someone says it (5, Funny)

Xiph (723935) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066075)

That's ok, we can still make jokes.

Jokes are only based loosely on reality, so it's alright to bend historical facts a bit.
Like saying that Napoleon didn't ride a horse, because he read too many comics... (he had hemorrhoids, rumour says.)

So here we go. In soviet russia, engineers saved old space station.. oh wait... no that doesn't work (too close to truth)

In soviet America products design you to fail!

Re:Before someone says it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28066149)

Yes, i'm painfully aware of the silliness of saying soviet america, the two US's are/were two beasts of different natures.

Re:Before someone says it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28066287)

"the two US's are/were"

Such a subtle play on words, most here probably didnt notice it.

Re:Before someone says it (5, Funny)

Farmer Tim (530755) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066079)

I for one welcome our historically accurate but humourless overlord...

Checkoff, calm down and repeat slowly (1)

philpalm (952191) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066109)

Of course my Checkoff is from another reality and the engineers who are spokesperons for the New Russia is from another reality...

Re:Checkoff, calm down and repeat slowly (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28066439)

What the fuck is a "checkoff"? Something to do with a check list?

Re:Before someone says it (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28066827)

The Zvezda module, which is the main Russian module of the ISS, was constructed by the Soviet Union in the 1980s. It's closely related to the core module of Mir, and was intended for Mir-2 until that was canceled. (Both these modules are in the Salyut family, which had its first launch in 1971. )

Why burn them up? (4, Insightful)

KasperMeerts (1305097) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066077)

Instead of just plunging them in the ocean, wouldn't it be much cooler to put them in an orbit halfway between the Earth and the moon, as a sort of testament for future generations?
It could be something like the pyramids or the the Eiffel tower or the Chinese wall.

Re:Why burn them up? (4, Insightful)

ericspinder (146776) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066127)

wouldn't it be much cooler to put them in an orbit halfway between the Earth and the moon

Yes, it would be cool to have space junk at a Lagrange Point [wikipedia.org]. It'd be even cooler to actually use it rather than leaving it as an hazard. However, I doubt if the station has that much propellant.

Re:Why burn them up? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28066681)

I like to put my junk to good use at the Gräfenberg spot [wikipedia.org] although it can be a bit hazardous since I've got loads of propellant!

Slashing her dot, ya know!

Re:Why burn them up? (1)

GreenTech11 (1471589) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066235)

But what about when they all line up, our world will be flooded by incredible tides, and it will split apart into thousands of pieces due to the conflicting gravity, *runs for the hills*

Re:Why burn them up? (4, Informative)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066383)

The problem is that orbits aren't permanent. There are faint traces of atmosphere, micrometeor impacts, lentz/faraday deceleration (as an object travels through the Earth's magnetic field, electrical currents form in the metal components which produce a magnetic field that is in the opposite direction). Because of all of these effects, satellites, and the space station itself, all have station keeping rockets. These need to be refuelled every once in a while. So, it's not as if you could just leave the ISS unattended. It will come down.

Besides, why not leave it where it is? It's not like it's in the way or anything. Boosting it to a higher orbit will be an expensive undertaking, and will add to the cost of resupply missions.

Re:Why burn them up? (4, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066843)

The problem is that orbits aren't permanent.

On a long enough scale, no, no orbits are permanent. However, if you get above 3-400 miles or so orbital lifetimes start heading up into centuries. Above a thousand miles of so, millenia.
 
 

Besides, why not leave it where it is? It's not like it's in the way or anything. Boosting it to a higher orbit will be an expensive undertaking, and will add to the cost of resupply missions.

He's talking about after the station is shut down.

Re:Why burn them up? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28066947)

Actually anything above 500 miles in altitude will orbit virtually forever (at least 1,000 years)
http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/images/orbital_considerations_in_kankoh_maru_rendezvous_operations.2.gif

Re:Why burn them up? (4, Insightful)

udoschuermann (158146) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066957)

1a. It takes a lot of energy to move something the size of the ISS into an orbit high enough not to fall on our heads in the relatively near future;

1b. There is no orbit halfway between the earth and the moon. Even if you considered one of the five "stable" Lagrange points, they are not all that stable in the long run, not for unattended, unfueled vehicles anyway;

2. I think it admirable that the Russians are not merely throwing their stuff away but at least show the willingness to keep it up there and try to reuse it. Even if this fails in the end, they will learn a lot from the attempt. And too many of us are conditioned not to maintain and repair things, but throw them away when they break (or even when they're simply not in style anymore) and buy new.

Re:Why burn them up? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28067037)

Same for the three Shuttles -- leave them up there for possible reuse.

What are we afraid of -- salvage by the Chinese and Indians who will get there first and be motivated to reuse the parts?

Maaaaybeeeeee....

Surely there's an ion engine that could be used to slowly tow a big bag'o'scrap out to a parking spot.

Imagine the very same hardware were to blink into existence in LEO and we just became aware it was there for the taking if we bothered to go up and use it. Would we decide to throw it into the atmosphere?

No. (5, Insightful)

brusk (135896) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066085)

Is Russia the last country where engineers are not (yet) forced by corporations to intentionally produce designs that fail two days after warranty expires?

Mars rovers? Voyager? NASA seems to be doing okay with that.

Re:No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28066193)

NASA is not a corporation. It's a socialist enterprise, like Medicare. So you see the point you just made, and an excellent one it was. ALL of our corporations spend money to build obsolescence into their products. Ever heard the phrase "Bugs for Bucks?"

Re:No. (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066303)

NASA doesn't really build much of its stuff. That's contracted out... oh, yes: corporations.

(It does do the final assembly on quite a few spacecraft, so they're also involved. But still: if the corporations are building in short life-spans to their components, NASA's final assembly ain't going to fix that.)

Re:No. (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066853)

Don't forget - these corporations make money by building spacecraft. They have (in my experience) great pride in their work, but the bottom line is that they want to build more.

Now, a lot of NASA hardware (the Hubble, for example) is modified military hardware, which is built and expended on a massive scale (there were supposedly launches of a Hubble type Keyhole once a month back when the Hubble was being built, for example). That must give rise to a rather different culture in the contracting corporations.

Re:No. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28066881)

Citation: needed

Re:No. (2, Insightful)

rvw (755107) | more than 4 years ago | (#28067039)

Is Russia the last country where engineers are not (yet) forced by corporations to intentionally produce designs that fail two days after warranty expires?

Mars rovers? Voyager? NASA seems to be doing okay with that.

How about Toyota? Just watch Top Gear killing a Toyota Hi Lux [youtube.com].

Reuse minimizes mistakes and costs (4, Informative)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066091)

In college, I wrote a web browser. It was fully functional and supported everything that IE supported at that time. My professor was amazed. Not only because I was able to implement such a complicated thing in VB, but also in that I was able to do it over the weekend.

I got an A, but I never told anyone the secret. Now, years after I graduated, I can divulge my methods. Or, should I say *heh heh heh* Microsoft's methods. I simply reused Microsoft's IE COM component and wrapped it in a slick VB shell. Code reuse, not only at the code level, but at the binary level!

So in the real world, it also makes sense to reuse technology and existing parts rather than rebuild them from scratch. Especially so for space-based things that require huge investment per kilogram just to get them up there. And by reusing older parts, we can standardize on the interfaces and create Lego-like systems that can easily work together instead of needing custom parts every time.

The only thing I really worry about is all that Russian fungus.
http://www.space.com/news/spacestation/space_fungus_000727.html [space.com]

Re:Reuse minimizes mistakes and costs (1)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066189)

I played around with the same IE COM component as a kid, it was nice to have coded your own browser. On the other hand, I also coded my own operating system that would run on top of Windows and had a fixed 4 seconds delay in the OS loading screen. You could even shutdown computer from my operating system, as I figured out what WinApi function to call. All in VB! :)

Re:Reuse minimizes mistakes and costs (1)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066419)

You mean your own frontend shell? That might be impressive, but it's not an operating system.

Re:Reuse minimizes mistakes and costs (1)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066411)

How on earth could your professor not catch that? As soon as I started reading that, I immediately thought embedded IE.

The dead giveaway is when it perfectly emulates all of IE's features ('bugs').

Re:Reuse minimizes mistakes and costs (1)

rbanffy (584143) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066717)

About the fungus, you could depressurize the habitable modules while in "storage". That probably wouldn't kill the fungus, but, at least, would halt its development during the time they are not used.

Maximized balls (0)

SpeedyDX (1014595) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066757)

You might have minimized mistakes and/or costs, but you've certainly maximized your balls with that move. If someone did that at my university and the professor noticed it, they would've been kicked out immediately and gotten a permanent mark of plagiarism or deception on their transcript. In fact, even if the prof missed it originally and the university somehow found out afterwards, even years afterwards, they could revoke your degree for such ballsy academic dishonesty.

Kudos to you. For your gigantic cojones.

Even though your testicular mass is something to marvel at, it was still a stupid and unethical thing to do. I'm not sure you should be so proud of it, openly or secretly.

Products that last (2, Insightful)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066123)

I so miss things which are made to last. Perhaps this is not a product of rocket science, but the chair I'm sitting on right now is a pre-WW2 german-made one. A regular chair, not one of Aeron types or whatever. Why? Because no desk chair I ever bought lasted more than a year; the one I inherited from my grandparents which they in turn inherited from their ancestors is still working fine.

I fully agree with the article poster's sentiment for old German products. Bring such chairs to the orbit and the ISS will be able to continue forever.

Survivorship bias (5, Insightful)

ex-geek (847495) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066243)

It is called survivorship bias. Almost all of the things produced in the past have long since broken down. We only see what stood the test of time and therefore tend to assume that things were built to last back in the day.

Re:Survivorship bias (1)

Shihar (153932) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066289)

I wish I had a pile of mod points. That was wonderfully insightful.

Re:Survivorship bias (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28066525)

Why?

A lot of things actually were built better "back in day" because it wasn't as simple as jumping in a van and driving down a nice paved freeway if the item in question malfunctioned.

Another factor was serviceability. Again, this was because the alternative very well may have been waiting several weeks for a part or mechanic to make their way to the site.

Re:Survivorship bias (4, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066353)

While I agree that there is a bias built-in, the simple fact is that things WERE better built 50 years ago. The reason is simple; Steel vs. plastics. Today, the items are likely to be made out of plastics which do not last as long. The reason is costs. The items that survived from long ago WERE EXPENSIVE. But look at today's goods. If you buy something from Target, Walmart, heck even American Furniture, it was likely made in China, was made out of the bare bones minimal wood, screwed together (maybe), and costs a great deal less. OTH, if you buy an ethan-allan piece, it is heavy, much better wood, better construction (rabit groves, etc), glued AND screwed, 10 or more coats of fine laquer, etc, etc, etc. And what does it cost? 10x more. Which is going to last for another century?

Re:Survivorship bias (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066407)

Whoops; Better pieces have Mortise/Tenon or dado. In addition, the cheap chinese is loaded with Veneer over cheap wood, while other countries use solid wood. Our dining room table was made in one of the break-away USSR republics (forget which one), but excellent workmanship. Cost us 1K for the table (and that was heavily discounted due to scratches, which we got out). The new chinese tables from same place were 800, but total junk. I give them 10-15 years lifetime. This table will be around for 50 or more. But of course, it will be treated like a piece of work, rather than worked like a piece.

Re:Survivorship bias (1)

adolf (21054) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066621)

Odd. I have an old ethan allen dining room set. The glue joints holding the chairs together are all failing. The formica table surface is delaminating from the substrate on the table.

There's no evidence that any of it was ever misused -- there's hardly any evidence that it was used at all. I got it from an old man who lived by himself, and the only thing to show any wear at all was the one chair he actually used to sit in.

So, the whole set basically wore itself out just sitting around barely being used.

I, for one, am glad they don't build things like that anymore.

Re:Survivorship bias (0, Troll)

slugstone (307678) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066887)

Sorry to be trolling, but there are rain forest being cut down because people want the good wood and not the cheap wood.

Re:Survivorship bias (3, Insightful)

jmv (93421) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066425)

The reason is simple; Steel vs. plastics.

It's not that simple. You *can* make things that last out of plastics. My son is playing with plastic toys I used to play with and they're in good shape. The problem now is with cheap, thin plastics.

The answer isn't that obvious (3, Insightful)

ex-geek (847495) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066635)

the simple fact is that things WERE better built 50 years ago

That is not a simple fact, but a grandiose fact claim on your part.

Some products may have been more durable in the past, some not so much. You would have to look at a case by case analysis, do some testing, empirical work to figure out what is true.

Metal and steel rusts and bends. Lots of mechanical and moving parts can cause all sorts of problems, line shafts wear out, cloth cables, springs, reed relais, etc.

Wooden joints that where glued or screwed together tend to get loose, etc.

No material is perfect. And cost saving can leed to simplicity, which can benefit durability greatly.

I believe that especially eletronics and computing is getting much better. Complicated VHS tape drives broke down all of the time. Reel to Reel tape drives had lots of problems. Optical is better and solid state even moreso.

Re:The answer isn't that obvious (1)

Philip_the_physicist (1536015) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066889)

OTOH, I have a WWII Ministry of Supply wooden desk, designed to be cheap and easy to build, and apart from needing new varnish, the desk is in pretty good condition, being somewhat dented and battered, but structurally sound. I also have some bedroom furniture provided to people who had been blitzed, and it was likewise the bottom-end, most basic furniture, but it is of far better construction than most mid-range modern furniture.

Whilst the survival bias may play a part, it is clear that these items were built very well compared to modern furniture.

I certainly do agree in regards to computers, but for items which are basically unchanging, production quality has often dropped, although this is partly that the bottom of the market ahs become lower.

Re:Survivorship bias (4, Insightful)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066643)

It isn't so much a case of metal vs. plastic as of things being designed with computers and modern materials.

An engineer working on paper would deliberately over-spec the materials and parts to account for margin of error, but now computers loaded with precise details of each material available can calculate exactly what is required to, e.g. pass a particular safety test or hold a particular load.

There was a BBC Horizon program which mentioned this back in 1982. Back then it was standard behaviour to over-spec anything safety related (e.g. bridge supports) by a factor of three, a it tended to spill over into non-safety things too. I don't know what they do these days.

Re:Survivorship bias (3, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066905)

But look at today's goods. If you buy something from Target, Walmart, heck even American Furniture, it was likely made in China, was made out of the bare bones minimal wood, screwed together (maybe), and costs a great deal less. OTH, if you buy an ethan-allan piece, it is heavy, much better wood, better construction (rabit groves, etc), glued AND screwed, 10 or more coats of fine laquer, etc, etc, etc. And what does it cost? 10x more. Which is going to last for another century?

Neither. The joinery on an Ethan Allan piece is dodgy, and while the wood is better than you'll find at Walmart - it's still cheap crap wood. While the finish is lacquer, it's cheap lacquer sprayed on in as thin a coat as possible. Etc... Etc...
 
Ethan Allen (and other such places) make a great show of their quality, but for show is all it is. Down underneath (where the uneducated/average consumer won't notice it) it's as cheap as they can get away with. But they sure *look* impressively high quality.

Agreed... overheard at a cafe by an old man... (4, Interesting)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066267)

I am an on and off motorcycle rider. One day at the shop, I saw an OLD BMW motorcycle that looked well, vintage. It had no shine, it was matte, it looked like it had been riding forever. An old man tapped me on the shoulder, and informed me that my inspection needed to be renewed, so I took care of that.

Later I saw the same bike at the motorcycle gear/coffee shop thats a bit out of town. I had stopped for a coffee before my ride for the day and I heard a couple of older men talking....
"You need a new transmission"
"I do not. That transmission is fine, why would I want a new one that might not be good. This one has 650,000 miles on it. Every 200,000 there is a bearing that dissintigrates and I have to replace. That is a good transmission."

650,000 miles on one bike and still riding. Not THAT is a quality vehicle. I mean, I am sure he must take care of it, but damn.

-Steve

Bob Pease's VW (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066597)

This reminds me of the VW Beetle owned by the great Bob Pease (still going strong by the way) who used to replace the engine on his Beetle "every 150000 miles whether or not it needed it." - though being driven in California at moderate speeds by a careful driver had a lot to do with that.

Re:Bob Pease's VW (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28066661)

150000 miles is only about 240000 km. It seems like a waste to replace an engine well under half its expected service life...

Re:Bob Pease's VW (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 4 years ago | (#28067065)

Replacing the whole engine is quite a big difference from replacing a bearing.

FWIW, my crappy old car is not far from reaching 150K miles and I don't intend to replace the engine when it does, nor expect to need to. The engine seems fine, the transmission is not so fine.

Maybe you're missing a digit? I think there are VW beetles that do a million miles.

Hubble (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28066133)

When they announced that this will be the last service mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, I was wondering why a large optical lens that was already in orbit had no value. Perhaps we should sell it to Russia for scrap.

Not worried (4, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066143)

More likely than not, America is going to allow Bigelow to attach a few units on there and they will ultimately replace the cans. They will be cheap and 100% appreciated by the occupants since they are MUCH BIGGER and QUIETER. In fact, if Obama and Bolden (our very likely next NASA head) were smart, they would continue COTS-D AND buy a Sundancer to attach to the ISS. Since NASA will not likely want to trust the Sundancer, it can be used for storage and the door kept closed in normal use. It will cost us 200M (assuming a falcon 9 launcher), which is chump change. By getting Bigelow started, it will lead to cheap new space stations for NASA, private space station, and perhaps military (important in light of China's new announcement of their multiple military). Finally, the Sundancer and the metal noodes can be replaced by BA-330's increasing the size of the ISS appreciably.

Re:Not worried (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066527)

Yes, we must fear the day that China starts throwing spoons at America...FROM SPACE!!!!!

Re:Not worried (2, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066963)

More likely than not, America is going to allow Bigelow to attach a few units on there and they will ultimately replace the cans.

And what good will replacing the cans do when all the support systems on the trusses and the solar panels wear out?
 
And yes, the solar panels will wear out - both due to mechanical wear on the rotary joints (without which you can't keep the panels aligned for max power output and minimal drag), and radiation damage to the cells themselves.
 
 

Finally, the Sundancer and the metal noodes can be replaced by BA-330's increasing the size of the ISS appreciably.

And decreasing the life of the ISS appreciably and/or increasing maintenance costs significantly. Large lightweight modules means a low ballistic coefficient, which means increased drag and increased effects from drag. The station will slow down and drop into a lower orbit faster than currently, meaning it needs reboost more often.

Re:Not worried (1)

thejynxed (831517) | more than 4 years ago | (#28067129)

I wasn't aware that the vacuum of space had anything to do with drag. Drag being an issue usually associated with aero and fluid dynamics. Magnetic fields maybe?

You forgot something else: Damage from space debris (micro-meteors, etc) to the solar paneling, and damage from solar flares.

Interesting. I wonder if they are working on ways to negate the effects of Earth's gravity well. I'd imagine that once they figure out ways to safely use nuclear-powered orbital adjusters and power generators, we just might see the ISS or a similar project expand and remain in orbit for centuries, sans the fragile solar paneling.

Longevity (2, Insightful)

matt4077 (581118) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066151)

When the ISS is decommissioned, I doubt it'll be for technical reasons. It's obviously not a consumer product and NASA and their contractors have shown they can build stuff that lasts (like the Mars Rovers, Voyager, the Space Shuttle or any of the hundreds of satellites). At some point the ISS will simply stop being useful. Some say that day had come the day it was launched, but I'm sure there's a little bit of science and a lot of engineering research and PR that the ISS has and still is useful for.

Re:Longevity (1)

matt4077 (581118) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066227)

I should add that there's a problem with the general sentiment of "everything was built so much better in the past". Firstly, that might simply be cognitive bias. The old stuff that lasts is still around so you'll base your judgment on that, neglecting everything that broke down and is long forgotten. Secondly, it's not that we have forgot how to build solidly. We've just learned to build cheaply. Plastics just weren't available in the past so you had to use metal. There was less knowledge about materials so you had to use higher margins or error. All those factors drove up the prices. Your grandmother's washing machine might have lasted twice as long, but it was three or four times as expensive. With longevity comes stagnation - I don't even want to use a twenty year old fridge, as it'll be loud and wasteful (even if you include energy used to manufacture it).

Sometimes you might want something solid just because it's more fun to have it. It might be furniture, tools or even notebooks. But there are still brands around to cater to that need, it's just that most people prefer to buy the cheap stuff and then bitch about i. e. Apple's prices.

Value Engineering & Built-in obsolescense (5, Insightful)

ickleberry (864871) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066153)

Is Russia the last country where engineers are not (yet) forced by corporations to intentionally produce designs that fail two days after warranty expires? There used to be a lot of equipment manufactured by various countries (Germany is the first one that comes to mind) that lasted virtually forever -- old cars or weapons systems, but one rarely sees anything of the sort these days."

No, but the space industry is one of the few where things are built to last. Portable consumer electronics are among the worst for quality except for a few notable examples like the iPod Mini and the Nokia 6310(i). Soldered-in lithium batteries, surface-mount MLC flash memory and electrolytic capacitors don't last all that long. Satellites are over-engineered, if anything goes wrong with them you can't put it in a cardboard box with styrofoam and send it back to the manufacturer.

The quality of cars hasn't actually gone down - when The Wall was knocked down lots of old Soviet cars like the 2-stroke Trabant were abandoned for second-hand German cars. Of course manufacturers are filling up modern cars with cheap consumer electronics and cheap Chinese DC motors to move every little thing because apparently buyers are too lazy to use their hands for anything. So while all the in-car entertainment and motorised windows,cup holders, sun roofs and central locks might break the car itself (engine & chassis) will probably be in a better state after 20 years than a '70s car would have been after 20 years since engine technology has improved and the underside of the car is better protected from rust.

Re:Value Engineering & Built-in obsolescense (3, Insightful)

dunkelfalke (91624) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066237)

Trabant was not a soviet car, it was a GDR designed and made one.

Re:Value Engineering & Built-in obsolescense (1)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066401)

Thank you for mentioning MLC flash RAM.

For whatever reason, the great majority of Slashdotters would like to believe that MLC-based SSD (solid-state disks) are just as good as SLC-based ones. That's bollocks. SLC will last at least 100 times longer than MLC flash RAM. If your application writes often to flash, the device with SLC will last 100 times longer, but most likely even more than that. That's the difference between a device breaking ("expiring") in 100 days vs. in 30+ years.

Re:Value Engineering & Built-in obsolescense (4, Funny)

peragrin (659227) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066547)

While you can't box up a satellite you can return it to the manufacturer. Burning through the atmosphere will void the warrenty but it leaves such a mark on the company.

The really hard part is targeting.

Re:Value Engineering & Built-in obsolescense (1)

talicni_tom (737155) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066921)

The quality of cars hasn't actually gone down - when The Wall was knocked down lots of old Soviet cars like the 2-stroke Trabant were abandoned for second-hand German cars.

Trabant was German designed car.

Re:Value Engineering & Built-in obsolescense (2, Interesting)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#28067015)

So while all the in-car entertainment and motorised windows,cup holders, sun roofs and central locks might break the car itself (engine & chassis) will probably be in a better state after 20 years than a '70s car would have been after 20 years since engine technology has improved and the underside of the car is better protected from rust.

Indeed. Around the time I graduated high school (1981, in North Carolina) a car with 50k miles on it was usually nearing the end of it's useful life and a car with 100k miles on it was virtually unheard of. (And these were cars that the average Joe could and did work on in an area with a strong shade tree mechanic cultural ethic.)
 
Heck, in the 70's cars didn't even come with warranties.
 
Meanwhile, my '98 Voyager just keeps humming along - 120k and counting. My wife's Aveo will top 100k sometime this summer and runs like a top.

The Trabant had a composite body shell (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 4 years ago | (#28067027)

Spray on some new paint and they still look new, 40 years later. In fact, it's so durable that disposal is a problem.

They're still used to tour Berlin btw. You can go on a "Trabi Safari".

 

German equipment that lasts forever (1)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066187)

In the summary they mention Germany equipment that lasts forever. In the shed of my parent's house there is an electric switch made by Siemens, from before WW2 - and it works perfectly to this day! Sure, it's a simple device, but it had to survive countless switchings, and in a rather polluted environment (industrial zone nearby, with oil refinery, iron foundry etc.). The switch is still impeccable both electrically as well as mechanically.

Re:German equipment that lasts forever (2, Insightful)

FussionMan (65370) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066297)

I still see a lot of GM cars and trucks from the 80s' on the roads and in decent shape. Most American made products actually last a long time.

On the other hand, Chinese made stuff is not always very long lasting and usually poor quality, but it is very cheap.

Soviet made products, electronics and cars, did not have a good reputation in Easter Europe in the past.

Re:German equipment that lasts forever (3, Insightful)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066445)

I come from a country that used to import Chinese crap way before that became "fashionable", and let me tell you, chinese products had a reputation of being crap already 30 years ago. With the trend in engineering as mentioned in the summary, things hadn't improved. Sadly, such lack in QC (or simply disregard for human life) extends to chinese food products as well. For that reason, I never ever buy any food or cosmetic product made in china, and actually avoid everything else whenever possible. Last time when my wife found this "lovely dinosaurus-shaped puppet", I was forced to buy it even though was china-made.

As for russian technical products, this is (or used to be, at least up until 15 years ago, I'm not up to date on their latest trends in production) a very weird mix of excellent quality parts and abysmal quality parts, assembled together with the greatest attention about 50% of the time, but also assembled together with half-arsed nonchalance the rest of the time. And often the two approaches at assembling are found in the same product. This results in an analog oscilloscope that would otherwise last forever and have excellent measurement parameters, if it wasn't for the CRT that, when produced, didn't quite meet the vacuum tolerances, and the capacitors in the probe being made from spit. Just for one example.

No surprise (3, Interesting)

sucker_muts (776572) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066203)

What's so difficult to understand about the fact that new products don't last as much as they used to? Back in the days the production and design processes were not as advanced as today, so a lot of margin of error was needed to produce equipment that worked the way it needed.

Today, there are a lot of different price categories for a lot of goods. So to give the people what they really want (cheap stuff), the components that are used in today's products are mostly the cheap ones that are produced without big margins of error for reliability purposes. This obviously means that they won't last forever, but boy are they cheap! Why should someone buy a very expensive TV that's garanteed to work for 50 years when in 15 years time there would be new models with a lot of new functionality anyway?

Sometimes I don't understand why some people are saying that that old equipment was so much better because it lasted forever, but I think the explanation to that is so simple.

Re:No surprise (1)

Enleth (947766) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066273)

Well, I've got a Marantz Superscope R-1232 amplituner manufactured in 1971, which was really at the bottom end of the Marantz product range, and AFAIK it was priced accordingly (affordable for almost everyone), yet it still works perfectly without a single repair in almost 40 years of use.

Re:No surprise (1)

Jon Abbott (723) | more than 4 years ago | (#28067125)

That is awesome. I thought I was proud of my Yamaha YST-C10 stereo, which is roughly half the age of your Marantz. Still works except for the occasional electrical glitch in the cassette deck. My dad has all Marantz gear, and it all still works.

Old Stuff (4, Insightful)

raygundan (16760) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066339)

Old stuff seems to last forever because the old stuff we have left is the stuff that survived. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. There's plenty of old junk-- but that went out with the trash years ago. Every era manufactures a bunch of unreliable crap, too.

To make matters worse: through sheer chance, some unreliable junk survives for a century now and then, too. While this stuff is all at the statistically unlikely end of the bell curve, and 99.9% of its cohorts have vanished, what remains by dumb luck reinforces the idea that "stuff was made better in the old days."

Re:No surprise (2, Interesting)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066461)

The problem with cheap versions of everything is that it artificially deflates the cost of living. I know that post 1950's the dual-income home drove inflation to a point that we've never recovered from. A family can no longer live on one salary in the middle-class salary range. But when you add to that the idea that everything's "cheaper," the demand for high quality items vanishes, rendering them unaffordable luxuries.

I'm not a Big Government fan, but maybe we need to regulate quality of manufactured products and even tax crappy items more heavily. This is having a really adverse effect on the economy, and don't leave it up to me to convince every Joe Plumber out there that cheaper isn't better.

Re:No surprise (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066625)

No. It's no going to have an adverse effect on the economy, if you tax products according to their quality.
That is: Good things also get a tax break, so that all in all, there in no difference an average taxation.

If anything, it will literally make everything better. :)

Re:No surprise (1)

cl191 (831857) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066787)

While that may be true for those of us nerds that always want the greatest and latest, but there are also some little old ladies that have been watching the same TV for the last 30 years and don't care about HDMI or 1080p, all they care is something that they don't have to rebuy till the day they die. Another example is other appliances that you probably care more about reliability than new functions. Like my uncle, he has been this same rice cooker that's basically nothing more than a heater coil and a bowl on top of it for the last 30 years, all while my parents kept getting new models with fuzzy logic and all the other non-sense built in. I lost count how many times we had to replace ours.

old German cars? Bwahahaahah (3, Informative)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066211)

Germany is the first one that comes to mind) that lasted virtually forever -- old cars or weapons systems

As the owner of a rare, older Audi, I find this concept hilarious. A number of components last just about the warranty period- a number of solenoid valves, for example. Numerous hoses break (turbocharged engine- the hoses split and leak.) The radiator end-caps (and thus all the fittings) were of a plastic that broke after a couple of years. Alternators last a few years tops because of their location and cooling design (they are fed air straight through the bumper, so lots of water and crap.) BMW and Mercedes largely had the same issues as they were all being fed the same shit by Bosch and others. Don't be fooled: automotive companies contract out or shop off the shelf at major supplies like Bosch. The climate control and seat controls in my car are straight out of the AC/Delco parts bin, amusingly enough...despite it being an Audi.

Manual transmissions and differentials? Absolutely. The engine block/valvetrain/internals/exhaust, you got it. The (hot-dipped-galvanized) body? Yes. Most of the interior electrics? Yup. All relatively bulletproof and will last longer than you want to keep the car.

Ask B5 A4/S4 owners about their driver information display or ABS modules. Or front suspension links on the original A4...

Re:old German cars? Bwahahaahah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28066389)

A4 is introduced in 1995, that's not "old". Old is like my Volvo 245 1977 (Swedish not German...) which still runs great.

Re:old German cars? Bwahahaahah (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066795)

BMW and Mercedes largely had the same issues as they were all being fed the same shit by Bosch and others.

As the owner of a 1982 MBZ 300SD, I break wind in your general direction. I do have a problem with my EGR, but since it's a diesel it's only a stink problem. I need to fix it, though. 350,000+ miles, wewp.

Regrettably, the W126 body is [often] considered to be the last great Mercedes. But it does point to the end of an era.

why not use the rest (5, Interesting)

mehrotra.akash (1539473) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066241)

instead of burning them up/dumping them, why doesnt Russia also make use of the other components for its own project??
if US is willing to dump them then its junk for the US and Russia could use them i guess.

Re:why not use the rest (2, Interesting)

FilatovEV (1520307) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066441)

I guess that maintainance of space modules is sheduled/directed by their manufacturers. Since various modules aren't produced in a single center, but are created by different countries, it may be impossible for a single country to lead on the whole project.

Then, there are concerns of national prestige. When MIR was to be destroyed, there were proposals to sell it to China. For some reason, the different option was chosen. Same concerns might take place for other space-faring countries as well.

That's why I'm not sure Russia received any proposals to keep some other national modules. But if such proposals exist -- I don't see why not to make it into another mini-international project.

Flamebait, but I'll bite. (1)

Bearhouse (1034238) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066253)

Is Russia the last country where engineers are not (yet) forced by corporations to intentionally produce designs that fail two days after warranty expires?

Well, no. As another poster has already pointed out, NASA's still got some stuff that's working well-past design goals. I'm sure that 'western' bits of the ISS could be have their working lives extended in the same way, if the political will was there.

Russia has excellent engineers that often found ingenious solutions in the 'make do and mend' Soviet era. Nothing's changed in the Putin-directed puff, propaganda and hubris era. The execution of the ideas often compromised by poor materials and processes - so not always up to Western standards of robustness and reliability.

If you don't agree, just compare an old Volga to an old Mercedes-Benz...

Re:Flamebait, but I'll bite. (1)

Enleth (947766) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066453)

You have it right there. I'm using a Soviet-made C1-99 oscilloscope from the 80s, which still works, still holds calibration settings for a few years at a time and still amazes me with its design. When I opened it for the first time, to replace a thread-secured cord socket (the cord got damaged and I wasn't able to find a new one that would fit) with a modern C14 socket, I was surprised to find a ~1,5m long coil of shower hose securely attached between the circuit boards, definitely factory work. It wasn't just some braided metal tube, it was an actual piece of shower hose, just with the ends cut off. Some googling revealed that this is a 15ns delay line, required for the synchro circuity to keep up with processing the signal at 100MHz. And this piece of shower hose is why this scope can do 100MHz reliably. Western designs of the age had instead utilized varous kinds of solid-state signal buffers and whatnot that showed problems with certain uncommon signals and were definitely much more expensive than a piece of shower hose.

Russian radio (2, Informative)

grumling (94709) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066371)

Many Russian/Soviet era military radios were tube type with regenerative receivers. They were supposedly designed so they would continue to work after an EMP. The reality was that they didn't have access to transistor patents, and tube factories provided jobs. The radios worked very well until the tubes went bad. As long as you looked at tubes as a disposable item, like a battery, you could say that they were made much better than the US equivalent. However, in reality, the silicon based radios were far superior in both function and reliability, and EMP hardened systems were developed, nullifying the tube's main advantage. My dad, a radio collector, has a Zenith Royal 500-D that has never had anything done other than replace batteries that still works as it did in 1955. There are almost no tube radios of that era that have maintained the stability of even those early transistor sets.

Deorbiting (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066479)

The last time they had a MIR toilet seat land in the middle of Seattle (then tried to blame the targeting mistake on "gremlins," no less). They just don't want another fiasco like that.

This caught my eye... (1)

CFBMoo1 (157453) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066499)

Is Russia the last country where engineers are not (yet) forced by corporations to intentionally produce designs that fail two days after warranty expires?

I can't argue with him to a point. Back in the day things were built to last well beyond the warranty. I like his attitude.

Typical of the Russian mindset (4, Funny)

spywhere (824072) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066557)

They tend to design things to outlast the competition.

Look at the Kalashnikov: crude, but timeless. Our tax dollars have bought hundreds of thousands of AK-knockoffs in the last few years alone, for our puppets... I mean allies.

Re:Typical of the Russian mindset (5, Insightful)

Tangential (266113) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066645)

They tend to design things to outlast the competition.

I don't know about that. 3 totally different forms of government in one century. They weren't designed to last.

Re:Typical of the Russian mindset (2, Informative)

JockTroll (996521) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066867)

Loserboy nerd, you know nothing about firearms. The AKs are no timeless, they're cheap mass-produced weapons that tolerate some greater measure of mistreatment before giving up the ghost, but an AK will break down. It will not last decades as better weapons like the Swiss SG510 and SG550 series do. They are way more expensive but can easily last a couple of lifetimes before needing some repair. Even then, it only takes some work by a gunsmith to make them work like they were new. Why, there are some 1930 issue Schmidt-Rubin rifles that work like charm after almost 80 years of service. More or less the same can be said with German weapons.
Russian stuff is not built to last, it's built to work without frills.

sea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28066581)

the problem is lazy consumers confusing something that is maintenance free for a period and then completely fails, with something that is designed to last indefinitely with maintenance. in cars there used to be lots of seals and gaskets that needed to be changed regularly, however the higher quality steel generally meant the car could last forever. asian companies pushed close tolerance and cheap aluminum, eliminating many seals and gaskets. my dumbass generation gets 200,000 miles out of one of these things while barely remembering to change the oil and considers that to be "reliability". around that 200k marker; however, the motor completely fails and the chassis falls apart from rust. meanwhile, my grandfathers generation still changes their gaskets and seals; their cars last forever and appreciate in value. this should certainly not be confused with survivor bias... this is a shift in engineering for an educated user vs. an uneducated one.

Lasting forever by design (3, Informative)

bagofbeans (567926) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066719)

It's possible to design much electronics to last a long time. I'd say that 95% of the reliability comes from not using wet electrolytic capacitors, which dry out with heat x time. The reliable test equipment I have from the 60s and 70s uses solid tantalum caps with a very long service life. And my mil-supplied, 50's built, tubes only, up to 500V variable voltage bench supplies use oil/paper caps and work perfectly after 50 years.

Building versus doing (3, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066801)

Unfortunately, much of NASA is focused on building things, not doing things. Look at the argument [washingtonpost.com] over the repair capabilities that made the Hubble a success : Nasa is letting go of those capabilities. The new Manned Space Flight System - Orion - will not have the capability to repair future Hubbles. In my opinion Hubble is the biggest success NASA has had since Apollo, and as before we are going to let the capability die.

The builder types of would respond "its cheaper to build new ones," except, of course, we more or less won't. The current paradigm means that we will launch a telescope, have it fail, and then wait 20-30 years until another of the same type can be orbited. And, there seems to be no real effort expended on new types of propulsion [digitaljournal.com] and certainly no effort on new types of manned propulsion.

The Russians, meanwhile, view everything they have ever launched as an asset. You bet that they are going to use their ISS modules as long as they can, and maybe just a little more.

Reliability (4, Interesting)

Talisman (39902) | more than 4 years ago | (#28066845)

"There used to be a lot of equipment manufactured by various countries (Germany is the first one that comes to mind) that lasted virtually forever..."

I understand the principle you are referring to, but I'm not really sure if it's a case of people remembering, or even imagining things more fondly than they really were. And I mean that literally; I'm not sure.

My grandfather, who passed away 16 years ago, left behind in his garage a lawnmower with a Briggs & Stratton engine. He originally purchased this lawnmower sometime in the late 50's. That lawnmower is *still* in my mother's garage, and still fully operational, some 50 years later. The only maintenance required is a bit of gasoline and a new spark plug every 10 years or so.

*50* years and still running strong

Fast forward to a car I owned in college. It was a 1985 Volkswagen Golf. The car was 5 years old when I got it; my mother owned it before me. It had about 60,000 miles on it when I got it, but it already had a cracked head (faulty radiator), CV joints were replaced 3 times (it was an engineering defect - anyone who owned a Golf or Jetta from about that time can attest to this), faulty fuel injector (it would stick at WOT sometimes when you floored it), headliner collapsed, sunroof broke twice (couldn't open it), and several other minor problems, and this was BEFORE I got it. I owned it for under two years and by then it was such a heap of garbage we decided to simply trade it in on something new, as it was too expensive to keep repairing. Mt grandfather bought me a 1992 Nissan pick-up, the no-frills base model, and it was mechanically the best vehicle I've owned to date, and I'm currently on my 8th automobile. I put over 200,000 (really rough) miles on it, and the only thing that ever failed was a bearing in the transmission, which was most likely my fault for driving it like a dragster. Was only $600 to repair, including parts and labor. Everything else worked great.

Going back in time again, I also have some of my grandfather's toys. They are stored away, and never touched, but the craftsmanship was so delicate, they never would have made it this long if continually played with. Even simple mechanisms like the Jack-in-the-Box readily break.

So taking into consideration the materials used in the past (heavy duty plastic, metal, solid wood) versus those in use today (thin plastic, cheap alloys, synthetic/pressed wood), as well as the business ethics of planned obsolescence (i.e. build something that breaks right after warranty) I would say that overall, if all manufactured products were compared to their equivalent from many decades past, it does seem that a higher percentage of products are now built more cheaply than they once were.

However, considering engineering advances, I'd put my Nissan up against any 1950's Ford or Chevy for reliability. And as has been mentioned by other posters, it's often what you pay and who you buy from. If you buy cheap, you shouldn't expect longevity. Of course there are exceptions to that, as well. My Nissan pick-up in 1992 was $9,000 out the door. The next most reliable car I've owned is my Viper, but it cost 10x as much as my old Nissan.

Better idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28066919)

Why not spend some of that brain power and money building something to go AROUND the current station.
Then take the old station apart INSIDE the new one, and melt down / decompose the old materials to be re-used as new ones?

I remember someone on UniverseToday suggested against my idea because it wasn't feasible to put a "recycling plant" inside a space shuttle.
It will have to happen at some point, why the HELL not now in the middle of a depression?

Why waste so many years of effort, then just throw it into the atmosphere?
This is exactly what is wrong with all these space agencies just now, filled by wasteful idiots.

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