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Could a Dirty Rag Take Out a $2 Billion Satellite?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the dumb-mistakes-cost-the-most dept.

Communications 297

An anonymous reader writes "The alleged rescue of a U.S. military communications satellite underscores some of the weaknesses in U.S. space efforts. Quoting: 'The seven-ton “AEHF-1,” part of a planned six-satellite constellation meant to support radio communication between far-flung U.S. military units, had been in orbit just one day when the problems began. The satellite started out in a highly-elliptical, temporary orbit. The plan was to use the spacecraft’s on-board engine to boost it to a permanent, geo-stationary orbit. But when the Air Force space operators at Los Angeles Air Force Base activated the engine, nothing happened. The Government Accountability Office would later blame the failure on a rag left inside a fuel line by a Lockheed worker.'"

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Lockheed gonna get sued? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640406)

Seems like the gov't should sue lockheed for failing to deliver the working satellite as contracted.

Hopefully that'll happen (which will probably leave that worker jobless) and we'll get some of our tax dollars back.

Shhh... I can dream!

Re:Lockheed gonna get sued? (5, Informative)

JonahsDad (1332091) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640492)

TFA states that they are seeking compensation from Lockheed. Hopefully, that'll happen without an actual suit.

Re:Lockheed gonna get sued? (5, Funny)

davester666 (731373) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640614)

Yes, the gov't will have to pay for that space-rag now. Lockheed forgot to bill them for it.

Re:Lockheed gonna get sued? (5, Funny)

Ouchie (1386333) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640764)

Yes, the gov't will have to pay for that space-rag now. Lockheed forgot to bill them for it.

The bill also included the fines levied by the TSA for failing to file an export declariation on the space rag.

Re:Lockheed gonna get sued? (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640974)

That would be funny if it wasn't so close to the truth...

Re:Lockheed gonna get sued? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640640)

Seems like the gov't should sue lockheed for failing to deliver the working satellite as contracted.

Hopefully that'll happen (which will probably leave that worker jobless) and we'll get some of our tax dollars back.

Shhh... I can dream!

Lockheed wouldn't piss off their biggest spender. They'll pay back in the form of a "credit" for some kind of services that have the highest margin for Lockheed. The guy who screwed up and his boss will get fired for sure, and then they will have some business analyst examine their QA process and add a little redundancy in the inspection policies. Nothing to see here folks.

Re:Lockheed gonna get sued? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640814)

Seems like the gov't should sue lockheed for failing to deliver the working satellite as contracted.

Hopefully that'll happen (which will probably leave that worker jobless) and we'll get some of our tax dollars back.

Shhh... I can dream!

Lockheed wouldn't piss off their biggest spender. They'll pay back in the form of a "credit" for some kind of services that have the highest margin for Lockheed. The guy who screwed up and his boss will get fired for sure, and then they will have some business analyst examine their QA process and add a little redundancy in the inspection policies. Nothing to see here folks.

Isn't that what should happen? I mean, when did the world suddenly decide that anytime anyone makes an honest mistake they should be crucified for it forever? If there is restitution for lost funds as well as improvements to try to prevent a repetition of the same problem, shouldn't everyone involved be satisfied? I'm fairly certain that the OP's hope that we all get some kind of tax refund is probably not going to happen, and even if it did, you'd be talking about a few dollars per person at most.

Re:Lockheed gonna get sued? (-1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 2 years ago | (#38641052)

$2 billion / 138 million taxpayers = $14/taxpayer. Of course, 49% don't actually pay income tax. And the top 1% paid 40%.

Hmm...scale does not compute. (5, Interesting)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640444)

blame the failure on a rag left inside a fuel line

Must be a really small rag or really big fuel line. Seriously, how would this happen? It's a freaking satellite engine, not the shuttle main.

Re:Hmm...scale does not compute. (5, Funny)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640480)

Yeah. Damn it people! This is just rocket science, not brain surgery!

Re:Hmm...scale does not compute. (4, Insightful)

ClickOnThis (137803) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640810)

Yeah. Damn it people! This is just rocket science, not brain surgery!

Actually, compared to rocket science, brain surgery is a walk in the park [youtube.com] .

Re:Hmm...scale does not compute. (1)

shentino (1139071) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640900)

Dammit jim I'm a doctor, not an engineer.

Re:Hmm...scale does not compute. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640574)

How do they know a rag was left in the fuel line? Do they have a sensor in the fuel line that checks for the presence of rags? Why didn't it alert in engine testing?

Re:Hmm...scale does not compute. (3, Informative)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640704)

How do they know a rag was left in the fuel line? Do they have a sensor in the fuel line that checks for the presence of rags?

I don't know about this case, but AFAIR NASA required forms signed in triplicate saying that any tool taken into the shuttle was later removed from it. Perhaps there's similar tracking in this case and a check showed up a rag that wasn't signed out for being removed.

It seems to be a common problem, I'm sure I remember a couple of rocket launches which were blamed on rags in the fuel lines.

Re:Hmm...scale does not compute. (2)

gnick (1211984) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640892)

If it's a rag small enough to scrub the inside of a fuel line, it could easily go unnoticed on its way onto the assembly platform. Or, if one was too large, it could have been sectioned and still taken out as "one rag." But in any case, signed in or signed out, how hard is it to test whether or not the line is partially or fully plugged? Put a controlled pressure on one end and measure flow rate on the other.

Check the logs? (4, Funny)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640902)

So why do they not check the forms before launching the satellite into orbit?

Re:Check the logs? (1)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640966)

They tried to get a form check requisition going, but couldn't get the necessary signatures in time for launch.

Re:Check the logs? (4, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38641026)

Probably the same reason why things end up being left inside of patients. Accidents happen, even if it's something that should never happen because it was on the checklist.

Re:Hmm...scale does not compute. (5, Informative)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640652)

You can use tiny squares of cloth, impregnated with cleaning solution, to clean the inside of valves and metal lines - gets rid of metal filings which are left over from the boring process.

Quite easy to leave one behind. Which is why there are processes in place designed to prevent such issues.

Re:Hmm...scale does not compute. (4, Interesting)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640992)

You can use tiny squares of cloth, impregnated with cleaning solution, to clean the inside of valves and metal lines - gets rid of metal filings which are left over from the boring process.

Quite easy to leave one behind. Which is why there are processes in place designed to prevent such issues.

So, they built a tool to make sure the rag was removed. Then they built another tool to check that the first tool was removed...

More seriously, why wouldn't groundside testing notice that there was a rag in the line?

The answer appears to be a yes. (5, Interesting)

jandrese (485) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640446)

Isn't this sort of like asking if a $5 wrench could wreck a car engine if it were left inside of a cylinder? Is anybody going to say "no"?

And yes, I went with the car analogy right from the start. Deal with it.

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (3, Interesting)

Suki I (1546431) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640494)

Exactly! Any old blockage could prevent fuel from getting through the fuel line. Same with the oxidizer. Even smashing a bug under an electrical component could cause a failure.

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (2, Informative)

galaad2 (847861) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640908)

bugs being smashed in electical components has already happened, lots of times in history.
Here's one of the first properly documented cases of it, from 1947:

http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/images/h96000/h96566k.jpg [navy.mil]

Photo #: NH 96566-KN (Color)

The First "Computer Bug"

Moth found trapped between points at Relay # 70, Panel F, of the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator while it was being tested at Harvard University, 9 September 1947. The operators affixed the moth to the computer log, with the entry: "First actual case of bug being found". They put out the word that they had "debugged" the machine, thus introducing the term "debugging a computer program".
In 1988, the log, with the moth still taped by the entry, was in the Naval Surface Warfare Center Computer Museum at Dahlgren, Virginia.

Courtesy of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, VA., 1988.

NHHC Collection

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (0, Troll)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640528)

No.

There are no car engines with enough displacement for a wrench to fit. Socket? yes, that can and will happen, I've seen a race car smash a head up because of a socket left in a cyl. but you did not say that, you said wrench, so it's impossible for a wrench to ruin the engine from being left in the Cylinder because you cant get one in there to begin with.

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640606)

"There are no car engines with enough displacement for a wrench to fit."

Not true:

http://edm4.com/the-worlds-smallest-wrench.htm [edm4.com]

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (1)

jandrese (485) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640610)

Not even this wrench [californiafords.com] ?

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640646)

Uh.. I have wrenches that will fit. They've got no purpose that I know of in a garage, but they'll fit.

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640718)

No.

There are no car engines with enough displacement for a wrench to fit.

What if someone made a smaller wrench? You seem to be assuming there is a fixed size of 'wrench', and a lower bound on it.

Since I'm betting neither of us has helped to assemble a satellite, I'm betting neither of us has any idea of the specialized tools involved. How do you know it's not one of these [edm4.com] ?

I seem to remember wrenches from my mechano set when I was a kid which would fit into the cylinder of most car engines

you said wrench, so it's impossible for a wrench to ruin the engine from being left in the Cylinder because you cant get one in there to begin with

Not even close to impossible. Maybe not probable or likely based on the sizes of wrenches used on cars. Impossible in this case is hyperbole at best.

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (1)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640772)

Really wow. That kinda surprises me. Other than track side pit crew work, which generally would not be invasive enough to the point of removing the head why would someone be working so quickly and careless not to turn the engine over by hand once before applying the starter?

Seriously after any job that requires removing the cams from their bearings you should probably be turning the engine through at least on revolution by hand just to make sure everything operating freely.

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (3, Informative)

RingDev (879105) | more than 2 years ago | (#38641044)

Most starters aren't strong enough to bust up a wrench or socket. Take out a plug maybe, possibly bend a valve, but in all likelihood, the motor would turn the engine till contact and stop.

That is assuming you are hitting the engin with the starter before hooking up the fuel and plugs. Which is usually a good idea to get the oil pump primed and heads lubricated firing it up.

That said, I have a number of wrenches that could easily fit in a cylinder with the piston at BDC. A GM 350 for instance, has a 4" bore and 3.48" stroke. On the diagonal that gives you over 5 1/4" clearance at BDC, not including the combustion chamber in the head.

9-11mm wrenches and 1/4" wrenches are common tools under the hood. Wiring brackets, trim plates, grounding lines, battery terminals, oil pan bolts, valve cover bolts, etc... They all fall into that size range.

-Rick

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | more than 2 years ago | (#38641096)

Most car engines have a bore of around 80mm. Enough to easily allow a small wrench to sit flat on the top of the cylinder. You could probably also spin the engine slowly without noticing it. 95mm is not completely uncommon.

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (4, Funny)

xrayspx (13127) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640564)

Luckily, in the aerospace industry, there's no such thing as a "$5 wrench". Hell that was probably a $700 dirty rag.

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (0)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640720)

Except that most wrenches won't fit in most cylinders, which I think was the original question. You can gum up the works by dropping a screw or some other small object, but not an entire wrench. Similarly, it's difficult to imagine a rag large enough to be useful but small enough to be left in a fuel line. I think someone got something wrong.

So yeah, your analogy was spot on -- it illustrated exactly why the stated diagnosis was not believable.

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (2)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640796)

Similarly, it's difficult to imagine a rag large enough to be useful but small enough to be left in a fuel line.

How many satellites have you assembled? For me, it's zero.

But, I've seen people clean the fuel line on RC helicopters ... we're talking about something about 1 inch square on the end of a little metal doo-hickey.

It is not inconceivable that we're not talking about a big old smelly rag here.

Why has Slashdot suddenly fallen into the trap of "I've never seen one so it can't possibly exist"? Seriously, I have no idea what is involved in putting a satellite together, but I usually think of dust-free chambers and people in fancy white suits; which means we're already well out of the mundane here.

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (3, Informative)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640940)

I have assembled zero satellites. But back in my military contracting days, I did the electronics for several military applications and was present when satellites were built. The boosters on those things are fairly small, and the fuel lines tend not to be big enough to stuff into what we think of as a rag. Maybe a cleaning tool or some other implement. I think whomever wrote that was either lazy or didn't fully understand what they were writing about.

> Why has Slashdot suddenly fallen into the trap of "I've never seen one so it can't possibly exist"?

Have we so soon forgotten that us slashdotters come from a variety of backgrounds? For instance, legal articles are often responded to by actual lawyers in this group. There are actual astronomers, actual physicists, actual biologists, and I'm certain, actual rocket scientists, who read and participate in Slashdot. We're not all gamers living in our parent's basement. Although there are some.

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640846)

Never underestimate the slashdot hive when considering willingness to go to absurd hypothetical lengths just to be a contrarian dickbag. Oh, and for the next person in the thread to go to absurd lengths the other way. And so on and so forth.

In the meantime, everyone misses the original point, which is usually valid, because their stupid aspergers got in the way.

Slashdot today... same as yesterday... we'll see you tomorrow.

Re:The http://science.answer appears to be a yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640794)

Apparently, the people who put the satellite into the necessary orbit did say "no". Kudos to them.

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (1)

shentino (1139071) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640948)

Is it the same 5 dollar wrench that was used to beat the password out of the programmer of another sattelite that was hacked?

Re:The answer appears to be a yes. (1)

spam4rakesh (1131931) | more than 2 years ago | (#38641094)

Now taking it a little further, a small amount of plaque in your arteries can take you out :)

New Job Opportunity! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640458)

Double checking for dirty rags! Boom...worth at least 45k a year with pension and benefits.. climb around all the pipe systems and check that shit.

anything can take out a satellite (5, Funny)

apcullen (2504324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640460)

It's hard. Any little thing that goes wrong will likely cause the whole thing not to work.
That's why it's rocket science.

Funny? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640672)

Fucking idiot moderators. That's not funny, it's the truth.

Re:anything can take out a satellite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640800)

Actually, part of what makes rocket science so hard is because failure is so expensive. And one reason for that is that you can't just pop a panel (look ma, a car-neutral analogy!), fix it, and have the thing be on its merry way. Another reason to try and find cheap, quick, easy ways to go up the well so you can indeed hop over and hop back.

In the meantime they'll probably hang some dishes on a couple oversized drones, mesh-network them, and give the result some overlong acronym. Even at beltway bandit prices it'll be cheap, and might actually work, too.

New space race (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640462)

Ah, industrial espionage at its finest...

Repair truck (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640470)

Well just send up the shuttle to collect the rag.... wait a minute... oh yea... Never mind.

Why must we have far-flung military units? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640484)

Perhaps we should just defend our own border, and leave the rest of the world alone. I think this demonstrates the joke that the United States has become. Is it a coincidence that the rest of the world hates our guts, and tries to lop off our heads at every opportunity?

Test Sequence? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640486)

Who puts an engine together without a test fire? Seems to me that some simple checks would have prevented a very big waste of funds and effort. I guess it won't be a total waste if they can learn from it.

Re:Test Sequence? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640522)

Yes, it does seem that there would be checks in place to insure something like this didn't happen. Maybe it didn't fail...

Re:Test Sequence? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38641062)

it is not unlikely that what you are suggesting is the equivalent of requiring each every bomb test fired to make sure it goes bang...

Lots of failures there. (5, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640502)

Assembly failure - leave a rag.
Inspection failure - did not check for rag.
Pre-flight final inspection - still did not find the rag.

Wow, complete failure all the way down the line from assembly to mating with the launch vehicle.

Re:Lots of failures there. (5, Funny)

Massacrifice (249974) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640548)

XXI century new space programs motto : It's failures all the way down, man!

Re:Lots of failures there. (4, Interesting)

geek (5680) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640572)

It reminds me of those surgery horror stories where the surgeon or staff leaves behind clamps and sponges inside the persons body.

Shit happens. All we can really do is our very best to try and prevent it, but ultimately, we're human and prone to mistakes.

Re:Lots of failures there. (4, Interesting)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640824)

> It reminds me of those surgery horror stories where the surgeon or staff leaves behind clamps and sponges inside the persons body.

Funny you should mention that. I had emergency surgery last year for severe traumatic internal bleeding (won't bore you with the details -- or maybe I already have) and things happened so quickly that they did not have enough time for an instrument inventory. (Apparently it's someone's job to keep track of how many tools get used and then count them before final suture.) So after they got me stable they ran me back through x-ray to look for stuff. Didn't find anything, fortunately.

But really -- it's not that much of a horror story, they just have to open you back up at some point to retrieve the objects. It's not something you want to have happen, but it's a fairly well known procedure. Horror stories to me are things like taking off the wrong limb [1] or prescribing catastrophically wrong medication.

[1] Before I went in for knee surgery, the doctor gave me a sharpie and had me mark the correct knee. Just in case.

Re:Lots of failures there. (1)

Pope (17780) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640584)

It does make me curious as to how big the rag and fuel line are. Also makes a great juxtaposition with the story immediately below on the home page, The Challenges Of Building A Mars Base [slashdot.org] !

Re:Lots of failures there. (4, Interesting)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640628)

Actually pre-flight final won't catch that kind of thing; it's already buried in the system (and you don't fire thrusters on a flight unit prior to launch). This is likely one of those cases where a scrap of cleaning"rag" was torn off within the path in an area not visible at either end and went unnoticed. To save money, a visual of the system prior to final assembly was determined to be sufficient and the endoscope procedure was eliminated, saving several thousand dollars (combined on all the lines). Sure, in hindsight a compressed air test would have been sufficient, but it's a little late to play what-if now.

Re:Lots of failures there. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640840)

"Saved" thousands of dollars? More like costs millions.

Re:Lots of failures there. (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 2 years ago | (#38641080)

Sure, in hindsight a compressed air test would have been sufficient, but it's a little late to play what-if now.

Except that devising a simple $1000 test might save the next $2,000,000,000 satellite. Extra points if you can add to or replace an existing test that tests multiple systems sufficiently.

Re:Lots of failures there. (5, Informative)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640736)

You left out Slashdot summary failure.

FTFA
"On Oct. 24, AEHF-1 reached its originally planned orbit. Testing began soon afterward. The Air Force expects to bring the satellite into service in March. Meanwhile, two more AEHFs are slated to launch in 2012."

They got it into the correct orbit over two months ago using the small thrusters.
In other words...
More sensationalistic headlines to get clicks and comments from the new Slashdot.
Really? Oh and the answer is "no a dirty rag did not take out a 2 billion dollar commsat."
 

Re:Lots of failures there. (2)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640916)

And of course that "underscores some of the weaknesses in U.S. space efforts." Actually, I would say it underscores the strength: they managed to fix the problem using ingenuity and scarce resources. Also, a "scrap of cloth" != "a rag". Calling it a rag implies someone just forgot a whole piece of cloth. A scrap of cloth implies it ripped or was otherwise accidentally and through no negligence (well, not gross negligence anyways, they may still have checked more carefully) deposited.

Re:Lots of failures there. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640924)

The satellite's useful life is probably compromised, since they had to burn extra fuel that would have been used for station-keeping over it's lifetime.

Re:Lots of failures there. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 2 years ago | (#38641008)

probably.
But by then they may have a better replacement ready.
My point was that the summary of this article was so incomplete and full of spin that it looked like a political advertisement.

Re:Lots of failures there. (0)

Mad Quacker (3327) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640882)

Assembly failure - leave a rag.
Inspection failure - did not check for rag.
Pre-flight final inspection - still did not find the rag.

Wow, complete failure all the way down the line from assembly to mating with the launch vehicle.

You could say it's 3 failures - but it's not. What it is is that no single person really cares about this launch, it's just a jobs program for many many people. I see it happen everyday - fortunately we don't lose $2 billion dollar satellites, but the same principle applies.

If there was a Orville Wright or a Steve Jobs or even a Jeff Bezos in charge of this satellite, this wouldn't happen. Although this is easier said than done, I'm sure there are many dedicated people who would make it their life and death mission to make sure it succeeded - but they are held in check by everyone else participating in the "jobs program". I have no idea how to fix this, but it's a problem everywhere around the world.

Re:Lots of failures there. (1)

lightbox32 (1903946) | more than 2 years ago | (#38641006)

Talk about being on the rag...

Foreign object debris seems to be common... (4, Interesting)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640506)

At least one of the recent Soyuz failures was put down to a similar issue - debris left in a fuel line by a worker.

Re:Foreign object debris seems to be common... (1)

metrometro (1092237) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640712)

In soviet russia, rag washes out you!

Re:Foreign object debris seems to be common... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640852)

I seem to remember a lose screw being a serious setback to the Soviet moon program, does anyone remember details?

clearly he's a terrorist (0, Troll)

alen (225700) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640514)

and has destroyed vital military property

time to lock him up with no trial and throw away the key

Re:clearly he's a terrorist (1)

Esteanil (710082) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640568)

and has destroyed vital military property

time to lock him up with no trial and throw away the key

Nah. NASA has now invested $2 Billion into the education of this unfortunate soul. He'd better stay and do his best to make up for it :-P

Re:clearly he's a terrorist (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640988)

There is no possible way that this fellow's mistake was the only one made during the entire production process. There were thousands of mistakes similar to this that went into the satellite in question (there are thousands upon thousands of parts and processes required, after all), this was merely the one that escaped all efforts to eliminate it... Unless you can prove that he really was conspiring to sabotage the satellite, you need to blame the process and not the producer. For all we know, the rag had an intentional yet temporary use in the fuel line to prevent accumulation of some contaminant (metal chips, vapor from welding, etc.) and the guy who put it there was just doing his job.

The result of a GAO audit? (2)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640526)

So, somebody can't come up with the used rag disposal accounting paperwork and the GAO concludes that it must have been left inside?

I mean, this kind of thing is good for sponges during surgery, why not satellite assembly?

Send up some Midol? (5, Funny)

rts008 (812749) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640532)

So, the problem is the satellite is 'on the rag'?

Rags and engines (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640558)

I've seen a rag left in a gas turbine engine after a rebuild a USN destroyer that managed to damage the engine when it was first started up once placed back in the ship. That was as several million dollar mistake.

Weakness? (1)

LastGunslinger (1976776) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640582)

Coming up with an ingenious method of saving a $2 billion satellite rather than scrapping it and sending up a replacement is a sign of weakness?

Speculation, not fact. (4, Insightful)

pla (258480) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640586)

FTA: "They didn’t know it at the time, but a fuel line had become clogged. The blockage “was most likely caused by a small piece of cloth inadvertently left in the line during the manufacturing process,” according to the Government Accountability Office." (bolding mine).

So no, we don't know that a dirty rag caused a two billion dollar satellite to fail. We think a fuel line became clogged, and some government bean-counter pulled the dirty-rag hypothesis straight out of their derriere so they could sign off on this one and go home.

Re:Speculation, not fact. (2)

hrvatska (790627) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640980)

FTA: "They didn’t know it at the time, but a fuel line had become clogged. The blockage “was most likely caused by a small piece of cloth inadvertently left in the line during the manufacturing process,” according to the Government Accountability Office." (bolding mine). So no, we don't know that a dirty rag caused a two billion dollar satellite to fail. We think a fuel line became clogged, and some government bean-counter pulled the dirty-rag hypothesis straight out of their derriere so they could sign off on this one and go home.

The GAO was probably basing its conclusion on statements from Lockheed itself. According to this [bloomberg.com] it was Lockheed that concluded the problem was some cleaning material left in the line.

"It should not have happened,” Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space Programs Richard McKinney said. “It was a quality mistake and we took steps to make sure it does not happen again,” he said. “It was obviously a very serious error.”

“It appears that there was a blockage in one of the fuel lines,” McKinney said. Lockheed thinks “it was caused by some cleaning material that was used in a line that was not properly vacated when they went through production.”

Re:Speculation, not fact. (0)

cyborg_monkey (150790) | more than 2 years ago | (#38641066)

Hi dipshit,

"and some government bean-counter pulled the dirty-rag hypothesis straight out of their derriere so they could sign off on this one and go home."

You mean the same way you pulled that out of your ass?

pot, kettle, black.

How did they find out there was a rag in there? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640592)

That sound's pretty amazing. How do they take a satellite in an unstable elliptical orbit and determine that a fuel line inside of it has a rag? Did they know before it launched? That seems unlikely. Did they go up there and find out? That seems even more unlikely.

Oddly ironic... (0)

mholve (1101) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640604)

That this is a communications satellite. Sounds like someone might've better communicated during the build process right here on the ground. ;)

Glad they didn't go to a backup! (4, Insightful)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640620)

"Finally, it speaks to the size and age of the U.S. space arsenal that the Air Force felt it had no choice but to rescue AEHF-1 instead of replace it with a back-up spacecraft. 'The asset inventory is getting so tight that they spent months limping the heap to its proper orbit,' the insider lamented."

Look guys, before you throw away (replace with a backup) a $2 Billion satellite, I damn well hope you try some pretty heroic measures. Those are my tax dollars in (the wrong) orbit! So I'm very glad you didn't have (to use) a backup satellite.

Anyway, does anyone know if the low power thrusters which were eventually used to put this satellite into the correct orbit used the same fuel tank as the clogged thruster? Otherwise 1) I'm very surprised they had enough fuel to get there and 2) they would probably have very little left to last the lifetime of the mission. So let's hope that all the thrusters used a central (hydrazine?) fuel tank and there's plenty left.

Space is hard and while the U.S. program has certainly had its ups and downs at least it hasn't seen the near total collapse as what happened to the Ruskies. They had quite a bad year last year and that blogger walking around their factory just exposed their problems more. If Mars is going to be a "Red" planet it will because of China not Russia.

Re:Glad they didn't go to a backup! (1)

Fallon (33975) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640838)

Yes, it used the same fuel source. There were some efficiency issues, but it did not alter the expected lifespan of the satellite on orbit.

Re:Glad they didn't go to a backup! (1)

LoveMuscle (42428) | more than 2 years ago | (#38641034)

Where did you get this info? Typically hall effect thrusters don't run on hydrazine..

Re:Glad they didn't go to a backup! (1)

LoveMuscle (42428) | more than 2 years ago | (#38641084)

Ok.. It appears that they used both. I should have read the whole article..

Re:Glad they didn't go to a backup! (2)

LoveMuscle (42428) | more than 2 years ago | (#38641012)

According to this:

http://spaceflightnow.com/atlas/av019/111009.html [spaceflightnow.com]

They used the hall effect thrusters instead of the hydrazine/nitrogen tetraoxide engine. The hall effect thrusters run on xenon and electricity, so NO they did not use the same fuel source. The hall effect thrusters have a specific impulse of ~8000s instead of the ~300s for hydrazine, so they are insanely fuel efficient, but extremely low thrust. (1/4N vs ~450N for the main engine)..

Re:Glad they didn't go to a backup! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38641022)

RTFA.

They saved it through some clever engineering and put it into orbit where it was supposed to be with a predicted 14+ year life. They used the hydrazine thrusters and a new electric engine and about 500 maneuvers...

Re:Glad they didn't go to a backup! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38641086)

the insider sounds like he'd really like lockheed to build a bunch more.
wow, acme company that builds widgets wants customer to buy more
widgets. surprising!

RAG?? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38640636)

A Dirty Rag? C'mon - RTFA! "The blockage 'was most likely caused by a small piece of cloth inadvertently left in the line during the manufacturing process,' according to the Government Accountability Office."

That could mean a tiny fragment of fabric. It's not like they put a rag in the gas tank to keep gas from leaking out. sheesh.

Old-school astronaut family: (0)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640694)

"You dirty rag, you killed my brother!"

On the rag (0)

stevegee58 (1179505) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640698)

So how's that satellite doin' today? Not so hot, she's on the rag.

So let me get this straight (-1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640754)

The government receives an almost 2B dollar completely broken satellite (the engine will not turn on).
Instead of someone testing if it will even run they just throe it up into space.
They now finally try to turn it on and it fails.
We are now waiting for it to come crashing down to earth.

Remaining maneuvering fuel depleted? (1)

phayes (202222) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640816)

One info I have yet to see in any of the stories I have read on this.

The "main" engine doesn't start so they use thousands of firings of the maneuvering thrusters to circularize the orbit. Do the "main" & maneuvering thrusters use the same fuel source or has the mission longevity been compromised? Does anyone know?

Re:Remaining maneuvering fuel depleted? (1)

Fallon (33975) | more than 2 years ago | (#38641046)

No, there were some efficiency issues, but it did not compromise it's expected on-orbit lifespan.

How do they know it was a rag in a fuel line? (1)

Clueless Moron (548336) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640848)

It's not like they have little nanites with cameras crawling around there. Fine, the main thrusters aren't working, but how did they manage to specifically blame it on a piece of rag in a fuel line? Aren't there a lot of ways a thruster can fail to fire?

Crap article with crap sources (1)

Fallon (33975) | more than 2 years ago | (#38640986)

"Finally, it speaks to the size and age of the U.S. space arsenal that the Air Force felt it had no choice but to rescue AEHF-1 instead of replace it with a back-up spacecraft. “The asset inventory is getting so tight that they spent months limping the heap to its proper orbit,” the insider lamented. "

Translation:

We spent tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands, heck maybe even a couple million on labor to save a $2,000,000,000 dollar satellite rather than build another 2 billion dollar satellite. You probably don't need a MBA to figure out the cost-benefit analysis on that one.

Weaponize it (2)

Ambitwistor (1041236) | more than 2 years ago | (#38641018)

We must be increasingly on the alert to prevent our enemies from taking over our satellite fuel lines, thus knocking out our military communications. Mr. President, we must not allow a dirty rag gap!

"Dirty" rag? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38641070)

1) The word "dirty" doesn't appear in the article.

2) Dirty rags are not used in the clean room environment of satellite assembly.

3) Sensationalistic, made-up title heading. Is Slashdot now Digg?!?

Lockheed, too big to fail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38641112)

Same guys that put the g-sensor in upside down on the Genesis sample return capsule. Lockheed can do this over and over again because they've engulfed aerospace talent and production resources to the extent that they're too large to punish effectively.

How could it happen? See the Genesis investigation board report for an example:

http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/149414main_Genesis_MIB.pdf

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