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Change In Experiment Will Delay Shuttle Launch

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the real-life-zeno's-paradox dept.

NASA 64

necro81 writes "A $1.5 billion gamma ray experiment, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, that was to have launched aboard the space shuttle Endeavor to the International Space Station in July, has undergone a last minute design change that will change the launch date, pushing back the end of the shuttle program by at least several months. The change replaces the original liquid helium-cooled superconducting magnet with a more conventional one, which will reduce the risks involved (superconducting magnets can be problematic — just ask CERN) and will greatly extend the useful life of the spectrometer (the liquid helium coolant would have boiled away within a few years of launch). Although the conventional electromagnet is only 1/5th as strong, its increased lifespan should allow for substantially more science to be conducted, especially considering the ISS's extended mission life. As the change is still underway, the impact to the final shuttle schedule is not fully known."

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64 comments

Dr. Bruce Banner was quoted as saying (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31979274)

Hulk smash tiny shuttle!

Oh please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31979478)

Please go back and read Feynman's book. Most, if not all shuttle "science" is just not that significant. Not flaming - you just give me the list of significant scientific papers that was a a result of shuttle experiments.

Re:Oh please (3, Insightful)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979592)

Um, please remind me, how did they orbit the Hubble?

Re:Oh please (2, Interesting)

markov_chain (202465) | more than 4 years ago | (#31981090)

There was no reason to use a manned launcher to orbit the Hubble.

For the cost of the repair mission and all the other worthless manned flights they could have put up 10 Hubbles.

Re:Oh please (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 4 years ago | (#31982328)

Ten Hubbles that wouldn't have worked properly because of the optical defect. Having a temporary repair platform shouldn't be necessary, but it sure was handy in this instance.

Re:Oh please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31983056)

Nobody said they had to launch them all at the same time. Could have been 1 that didn't work and 9 that did.

Re:Oh please (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#31984188)

Nobody said they had to launch them all at the same time. Could have been 1 that didn't work and 9 that did.

Even more sobering: if the above cost analysis is correct, it could have been 9 that didn't work and 1 that did, and we'd be no worse off.

Re:Oh please (2, Insightful)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | more than 4 years ago | (#31985570)

The above "cost analysis" was hyperbole pulled out of the poster's ass. Your delicious understatement of the benefits of having 9 simultaneously operational Hubble telescopes only underlines the hyperbole. No worse off? Try fantastically well off. Astronomers would be giddy for months for the chance to gain access to such an armada.

I'm not especially pleased by the ridiculous expense of the Shuttle, or the welfare for engineers that it represents, but on the other hand I believe that any organization not practicing an activity rapidly becomes incapable of that activity and has to relearn it from scratch if someone wants to resume that activity. Going around in circles for the last 20 years at least kept our hand in. There is still a crowd of people who know how to do manned space flight, and prove it on a semiannual basis. If we hadn't been doing it, you could say definitively that we wouldn't really know how.

There's some argument to be made that the way NASA goes about it, they don't really know how either, but that's another problem...

Re:Dr. Bruce Banner was quoted as saying (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31979830)

Controlled by gamma light!

Seriously? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31979316)

IAASIE (I am a space instrumentation engineer) and I really find such a major last minute decision hard to believe, seeing how long and detailed the flight model / integration tests are...

Re:Seriously? (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31979444)

ting (guy who runs it) is a whackjob with political clout which is why he is ramming it through. he needs to be removed and the project flown as is. the project will be useless with no time for detailed testing thanks to tings change and the team blamed for its failure as usual.
-a lone engineer at cern.

Re:Seriously? (3, Insightful)

kestasjk (933987) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979480)

Sounds like it'll mean more science and less risks. If he had wanted to delay to fix the magnets that caused the quench in the LHC would you have called him a whackjob then?

Re:Seriously? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31979772)

there is nothing wrong with the cryo magnets. redesigning a finished project delayed 10 years is stupidity at its finest. it wont mean more science cuz it wont work and its moar risks not less.

Re:Seriously? (3, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979466)

IAASIE (I am a space instrumentation engineer) and I really find such a major last minute decision hard to believe, seeing how long and detailed the flight model / integration tests are...

Maybe they are actually swapping one validated unit for a different validated unit.

Re:Seriously? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31979546)

Yeah, according to Wikipedia, they are indeed swapping the cryo-cooled superconducting electromagnet for the conventional one that flew on the AMS-1. Reading the AMS website, I found out that both have the same dimensions and mechanical interfaces to the instrument, since they were developed as swappable alternatives for short- and long-lived mission profiles. However I think the overall working of AMS-2 has still changed enough (especially with the removal of the cryogenic circuitry and the change in magnetic field) for the whole integration and testing process to be redone from scratch.

Re:Seriously? (1)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979642)

Then why would the launch date be pushed back by several months?

Re:Seriously? (4, Funny)

sentientbeing (688713) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979910)

They havent bought it yet.

They're waiting for the second-chance offer to come up on ebay.

Re:Seriously? (1)

ravenspear (756059) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979570)

And seriously how long does it take to design a proper instrument?

This experiment has been in development for over 12 years (since AMS 1 flew in 1998).

Re:Seriously? (4, Insightful)

drerwk (695572) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979794)

Look up Gravity B; 43 years from NASA funding to launch. I won't read the details, but higher B field usually means higher resolution in mass spectrometry. Maybe longer life will make up for it; but a 0 field forever will tell you nothing.

Re:Seriously? (2, Interesting)

gumbi west (610122) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979578)

I also find it hard to believe that someone would name a spectrometer designed to measure gammas the "alpha spectrometer."

Re:Seriously? (4, Informative)

reverseengineer (580922) | more than 4 years ago | (#31980286)

That's because, contrary to what the summary says, this is a cosmic ray detector, not a gamma ray detector. The point of the big magnet is that there will be charged particles streaming through that can be steered by a magnetic field (and so identified). Of course, most cosmic rays are protons, but a significant fraction are alpha particles, and one of the major objectives of the experiment is to look for alpha antiparticles (antihelium nuclei, in other words).

Re:Seriously? (1)

gumbi west (610122) | more than 4 years ago | (#32040704)

Thanks, that makes lots of sense!

Re:Seriously? (2, Funny)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979582)

IAASIE (I am a space instrumentation engineer)...

Quiet peon, and bow to the administrator! [flexes pencil like arms]

Re:Seriously? (2, Funny)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 4 years ago | (#31980096)

It is the National Air and Space Administration

Re:Seriously? (1)

BrightSpark (1578977) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979668)

I agree - maybe the NASA guys want to extend the shuttle life because the alternatives aren't sorted? It seems very suspect to make this 11th hour change for the last mission by the fleet. Still, it will delay decommissioning costs and push the scheduled expenses back which will please some at NASA.

Re:Seriously? (4, Interesting)

Kartoffel (30238) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979742)

Yep. I was a payloads integration engineer TEN YEARS AGO, and wrote one of the early ops baselines for this shuttle flight.

Re:Seriously? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31980838)

You fool. "IANAL" sounds waaay better...

Re:Seriously? (3, Interesting)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#31980874)

Doubly so since the cryogens aren't the only limit on the experiment's lifetime. There's also the gas supply for the photomultiplier tubes, whose expected life I cannot find anywhere.

Re:Seriously? (2, Funny)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#31982322)

IATGWTTEAAISACTIAEIF (I am the guy who thinks that explaining acronyms and initialisms straight after them is an exercise in futility).

I prefer to tall this phenomonon VAES Syndrome (Verbose Acronym Explaination Syndrome... Awww crap).

Re:Seriously? (2, Interesting)

The_Wilschon (782534) | more than 4 years ago | (#31983906)

If anyone other than Sam Ting were running it, I would also find it hard to believe. But Sam Ting gets what he wants, no matter the cost, no matter how stupid.

Re:Seriously? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31987178)

I think that Dr. Ting and his associates should get tuned in to reality. This is the second time around for this experiment. They are holding up billions of dollars in tax payers money for a launch that was prepared a long time ago. Life has to go on. Maybe they should look else where to get this thing to ISS? Perhaps one of the unmanned cargo flights?

If they can't be on this bus then find another way. Why should things get held up because they can't make up their minds?

But does it run Linux? (5, Funny)

machine321 (458769) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979396)

If only it ran Ubuntu, then we'd know what's the Shuttleworth.

Re:But does it run Linux? (1)

spikeb (966663) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979404)

haha if i still had mod points, this would be going up.

Re:But does it run Linux? (0)

grcumb (781340) | more than 4 years ago | (#31981070)

If only it ran Ubuntu, then we'd know what's the Shuttleworth.

Actually, the firmware for the original was written by a famous kernel dev [wikipedia.org] , which explains why early headlines stated:

SHUTTLE COX BLOCKED

moJd down (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31979532)

Gave the BSD conflicts that Talk 7o one of the 0bsessed - give hobbyist dilettante distribution make

Re:moJd down (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31980006)

Come on now. You're not even trying anymore.

Contingency plans for X37B? (4, Interesting)

clyde_cadiddlehopper (1052112) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979564)

I wonder if this delay extends the set of contingencies (such as reboost, de-orbit, or repair) for the experimental unmanned space plane currently on orbit. [defensenews.com] The recent X37B liftoff was on a much lower inclination than the ISS's and "is designed to fly at altitudes between 110 and 500 nautical miles, or 126 to 575 statute miles" according to SpaceflightNow. This puts it within reach of Endeavor. The last time a supersecret bird went awry, they had to shoot it before it fell to keep it from raining hydrazine and beryllium [wikipedia.org] on populated areas ... or so they said.

Re:Contingency plans for X37B? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31979842)

Having a different inclination actually puts X37B out of reach of Endeavor or any Shuttle-ISS flight. These are completely different missions with no plans for any interaction between them.

Regarding your skepticism about the destruction of USA 193, I refer you to Jim Oberg's excellent summary here [jamesoberg.com]

summary is wrong (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31979688)

Submitter is a moron who does not know what he is talking about.

Re:summary is wrong (4, Insightful)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 4 years ago | (#31980146)

Submitter is a moron who does not know what he is talking about.

If you're going make that sort of statement, you could at least:

1. Offer up some evidence to back up your statement. A link would do.

2. Sign your fucking name to it.

Thank you,

The Internet

Re:summary is wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31980158)

And you're setting a shining example of intellectual purity for Slashdot.

High-temperature superconductor magnets? (4, Interesting)

reverseengineer (580922) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979844)

Just throwing a question out there: What's holding back the use of high critical-temperature superconductors in applications like the AMS magnet? Helium cooling is a vital, yet difficult and expensive proposition for many high-profile physics projects, to say nothing of innummerable NMR and MRI magnets out there. I realize that as ceramic-type substances, cuprate superconductors aren't as easily drawn into wire as the niobium alloys commonly used, but it seems like those technical challenges are worth dealing with in order to cool with liquid nitrogen rather than liquid helium. Particularly the superfluid helium that was planned for AMS- that stuff abhors a container. Is there some other physical limitation to cuprates that I'm missing, or is it just that the multi-decade nature of the big projects have kept them from adopting newer materials?

Re:High-temperature superconductor magnets? (5, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#31979994)

There are a few reasons: 1) high temp superconductors have a relatively low critical magnetic field strength at liquid Nitrogen temperatures and 2) At this point, switching to high tempt superconductors in the design would require an even longer delay due to the testing required. Of course if 1/5 the field strength is a ok then high temp superconductors should still have a sufficient critical magnetic field strength at liquide Nitrogen temperatures. Although really, you'd still have coolant boiling away just at a somewhat slower pace.

low temp superconductors can do the big magnets (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31980004)

The generation 2 superconducting fiber from American Superconductor is flexible and can carry lots of current. It hit the market in 2006? 2008?, so it's still new. However, high temperature superconductors can not handle the magnetic fields that the really big magnets need.

Re:High-temperature superconductor magnets? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31980160)

High temperature superconductors generally can't produce big magnetic fields without the superconductivity breaking down. They're fine for carrying big currents in straight lines, but they make terrible magnets. That's why the LHC's magnets are low temperature superconductors, even though this isn't a space application which had to be planned 20 years in advance.

Re:High-temperature superconductor magnets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31980970)

Intergalactical space bizanium is the answer.

Space is cold (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31980024)

What's stopping them from cooling it by exposing it to the outside?

Re:Space is cold (1)

ThunderThor53 (836847) | more than 4 years ago | (#31980106)

Space itself is cold, yes (high vacuum means there are very few particles to vibrate, so low temperature). HOWEVER, the solar radiation heats objects up rather nicely. If solar radiation didn't heat things, we'd be frozen here on earth too. To keep this instrument cold by exposing it to space would require a giant sun shield.

Re:Space is cold (5, Informative)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 4 years ago | (#31980152)

Space isn't actually cold. There's nothing there to be cold. In order to transfer heat, you need something to transfer it into, and there's just nothing there.

See this [irregularwebcomic.net] excellent discussion of cooling problems for the Star Wars planet-city Coruscant.

Re:Space is cold (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 4 years ago | (#31982320)

Let's not swap one absurdity for another. Space is extremely cold, at about 3K. Poor heat transfer is an orthogonal issue, which prevents you using space as a heat sink. If a device is generating its own heat or picking it up from (solar) radiation, it will heat up. If it's inert and in the shade, it will get cold and stay cold.

Re:Space is cold (2, Interesting)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 4 years ago | (#31983034)

If an object radiates away all its energy because it's in space, it doesn't get cold because space is cold. It gets cold because there's nothing there to radiate energy back into the object.

You can say that the stuff in space that isn't just empty space has a temperature, but it's so spread out that radiation becomes the dominant mode of heat transfer, and it has such little mass and is so cool that its black body radiation is meaningless. It is effectively not there for this interaction.

Re:Space is cold (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 4 years ago | (#31983564)

No. Your model is of an object in an infinite, unbounded void, a void which would indeed have no temperature to speak of. However that is not the universe. Any subset of the universe exchanges heat with the remainder, and would do so even if radiation was the only mechanism of heat transfer. Therefore thermodynamics allows that we can - and must - talk about the temperature of space in a sensible way.

If you take an object and you place it in the universe in a cavity which (for the sake of discussion) is large enough that the universe appears reasonably homogeneous, it will cool until net heat transfer stops at a finite temperature of around 3.5K. By the thermodynamic definition, the object and the universe are now at the same temperature. Ergo, the universe has a temperature of about 3.5K. Ergo, space is cold.

This isn't to dispute that an object which needs to lose heat at any significant space cannot do so to space. That's an entirely seperate issue.

Re:Space is cold (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 4 years ago | (#31983572)

Any significant rate

Re:Space is cold (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#31985746)

They had really advanced technology long time ago in that galaxy far, far away. They could be dumping their waste energy into hyperspace. They could even be using fusion as a heat sink. How much energy does it take to make an iron atom, or an oxygen molecule?

Re:Space is cold (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 4 years ago | (#31988390)

It is a galaxy populated by sword fighting space wizards. Is a plausible explanation strictly necessary?

NOT gamma-rays (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31980186)

AMS is not a gamma-ray detector. It is designed to measure cosmic rays. http://ams.cern.ch/AMS/ams_homepage.html [ams.cern.ch]

Experimental Gamma Rays (1)

Master Moose (1243274) | more than 4 years ago | (#31980422)

Hulk Smash

Just one question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31980504)

This is not what you call........ hot-swapping, is it?

badum tisch

The case for intact equipment return (4, Interesting)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#31980860)

AMS is one of the poster children for a capability that will be lost with the retirement of the shuttle, a capability many insist we don't need - intact equipment return.
 
The original plan was, when the cryogens ran out, to return AMS to Earth and rerun the pre launch calibration checks (essentially using a particle accelerator to shoot particles through the AMS) - not only allowing us to learn about the effects of the orbital environment, but also being able to apply the knowledge of those effects to the analysis of the science data collected on orbit.

1,5 billion dollar experiment? (1)

kaysan (972266) | more than 4 years ago | (#31981594)

What kind of experiment are we talking about (/should i have read TFA for) here?

Re:1,5 billion dollar experiment? (0)

discord5 (798235) | more than 4 years ago | (#31982858)

What kind of experiment are we talking about (/should i have read TFA for) here?

They're going to fire large amounts of nickles and dimes into the sun from a cannon disguised as a telescope to see exactly how much metal is needed to stop the fusion reaction and cause a supernova. The delay is being caused by some guy who forgot to bring exact change, and now he's holding up the queue by arguing with the cashier why he can't just put in a dollar.

But really, something with cosmic radiation, particle of the week, and magnets. A typical plot used in modern scifi, only with the added realism of bureaucracy, testing and money.

My apologies to any scientist who cringes while reading this post.

azizajalal (1)

azizajalal (1797864) | more than 4 years ago | (#31981766)

the major objectives of the experiment is to look for alpha antiparticles Window [solarcontrolfilmsinc.com]

Unforeseen Consequences (0)

stararmy (1541581) | more than 4 years ago | (#31982788)

The administrator's very insistent that we get a reading from this latest sample. I gather they went to some lengths to get it.

!gamma rays (1)

ianm.phil (1140173) | more than 4 years ago | (#31985852)

Someone really needs to fix the summary because it is NOT a gamma ray experiment at all. It is a cosmic ray experiment that detects baryonic matter (protons and small nuclei).

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