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Software Glitch Means Loss of NASA's Deep Impact Comet Probe

timothy posted about 7 months ago | from the sometimes-they-come-back dept.

NASA 65

Taco Cowboy writes "'NASA is calling off attempts to find its Deep Impact comet probe after a suspected software glitch shut down radio communications in August, officials said on Friday.' Last month, engineers lost contact with Deep Impact and unsuccessfully tried to regain communications. The cause of the failure was unknown, but NASA suspects the spacecraft lost control, causing its antenna and solar panels to be pointed in the wrong direction. NASA had hoped Deep Impact would play a key role in observations of the approaching Comet ISON, a suspected first-time visitor to the inner solar system that was discovered in September 2012 by two Russian astronomers. The comet is heading toward a close encounter with the sun in November, a brush that it may not survive." Deep Impact has had a pretty good run, though: from its original mission to launch a copper slug at a comet (hence the name), to looking for Earth-sized planets.

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65 comments

Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909499)

So it seems they found something and decided to just "forget" about it instead....

Re:Hmmm (5, Insightful)

symbolset (646467) | about 7 months ago | (#44910201)

The peril of human controlled computer operated machines is that they do what you told them to do, whether or not what you said was what you intended.

Re:Hmmm (1)

MickLinux (579158) | about 7 months ago | (#44911343)

I doubt it. But if you want real paranoia, consider if they are again trying to do what they tried once before: the story of the Epic of Gilgamesh, where something went up into the heavens to "bring down wheat and loaves, and what came down was wheat (meteors) and loaves (asteroid/ comet) and one really huge fragment into the Indian ocean.

And when the person who had done it saw No's ark, he flew into a rage "they were ALL supposed to be dead!" And Ya, the clever prince said âoefor mercy's cake, this was bad that you have done... to try to kill them all."

Re:Hmmm (1)

MickLinux (579158) | about 7 months ago | (#44911353)

Oh, the name of the evil entity? Enlil, like the name of the satellite that looks at the far side ove the sun.

Re: Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44912387)

It is chuwbaca.

ALIENS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909505)

ALIENS...

Re:ALIENS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909523)

ALIENS...

No... it was ANCIENT HUMANS!

Re: ALIENS (4, Funny)

tysonedwards (969693) | about 7 months ago | (#44909583)

Your explanation for anything slightly peculiar is aliens, isn't it? You lose your keys, it's aliens. A picture falls off the wall, it's aliens. That time we used up a whole bog roll in a day, you thought that was aliens as well.

Re: ALIENS (4, Funny)

Esion Modnar (632431) | about 7 months ago | (#44909667)

A roommate of mine in college had a religious poster stuck to the wall with yellow sticky tack. When it inevitably fell to the floor, he looked at where the picture had been, and said: "I rebuke you in the name of Jesus Christ, Satan." Yeah, it was Satan, not that unreliable sticky tack he used. Now, if it had crumpled itself up and flung over to the trash can...

Re: ALIENS (2)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 7 months ago | (#44912323)

Cut him some slack on the exorcism -- after all, you guys are surrounded by fellow students whose heads are constantly spinning and vomiting and swearing like a sailor.

Re: ALIENS (3, Funny)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | about 7 months ago | (#44910015)

That can all be explained without extra-planetary influence...
You lose your keys, it's aliens.
No, that's gremlins.
A picture falls off the wall, it's aliens.
Sorry, that's poltergeists.
That time we used up a whole bog roll in a day, you thought that was aliens as well.
In the USA we normally attribute that to Taco Bell.

re: your sig (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44910023)

Your sig is a lie. Unless there's a preceding or trailing space, it's 33 chars. Apologies on the pedantism.

Re: your sig (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44910229)

What about the CR?

Re: your sig (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44911285)

Terminating NUL is a character too, you insensitive clod!

Re: ALIENS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44910487)

http://cdn.meme.li/i/5gyhv.jpg

Re: ALIENS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44910859)

Methinks you are an alien!

Why are so many exoplanet spacecraft failing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909757)

That is, any spacecraft involved in the search for exoplanets appears to not have the shelf life of those spacecraft that are not. I'm not saying it is or was aliens. I just find it interesting.

I really want to find an earth sized planet in the habitable zone. It doesn't need to have any signs of life for me to dream, but every announcement of a possible planet in the habitable zone either turns out not to actually be in the habitable zone or hostile to life in some other way like too immense, too gaseous, etc.

Fuck.

*inhales* (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909527)

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Go away filter I'll use as many caps as I like; I'm trying to yell.

A little more info from NASA (4, Informative)

g01d4 (888748) | about 7 months ago | (#44909613)

After losing contact with the spacecraft last month, mission controllers spent several weeks trying to uplink commands to reactivate its onboard systems. Although the exact cause of the loss is not known, analysis has uncovered a potential problem with computer time tagging that could have led to loss of control for Deep Impact's orientation. That would then affect the positioning of its radio antennas, making communication difficult, as well as its solar arrays, which would in turn prevent the spacecraft from getting power and allow cold temperatures to ruin onboard equipment, essentially freezing its battery and propulsion systems.

Re:A little more info from NASA (5, Funny)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about 7 months ago | (#44909685)

Although the exact cause of the loss is not known, analysis has uncovered a potential problem with computer time tagging

Upon further analysis it was discovered that while the hardware was designed to run on imperial hours, minutes, and seconds, the software was written using metric time.

Re:A little more info from NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44910571)

You mean Swatch Internet time?
Was the probe created somewhere around 1998?

Re:A little more info from NASA (1)

sleepypsycho (1335401) | about 7 months ago | (#44909925)

Although the exact cause of the loss is not known, analysis has uncovered a potential problem with computer time tagging that could have led to loss of control for Deep Impact's orientation.

Aha! Y2K. The time tagging problem is a little worse than presented.

Re:A little more info from NASA (2)

Shambhu (198415) | about 7 months ago | (#44910647)

Essentially, yes. National Geographic's piece [nationalgeographic.com] had this quote:

"Basically, it was a Y2K problem, where some software didn't roll over the calendar date correctly," said A'Hearn. The spacecraft's fault-protection software (ironically enough) would have misread any date after August 11, 2013, he said, triggering an endless series of computer reboots aboard Deep Impact.

As far as I can tell the significance of that date is that it is approximately 2^32 tenths of a second into the millennium.

Re:A little more info from NASA (1)

sleepypsycho (1335401) | about 7 months ago | (#44911423)

No, no, no,I was *joking*! It really is Y2K like? Actually, I remember there were a couple of other Y2K style rollover dates people were warning about, although I can't recall if 2013 was one.

So this is now my 3rd favorite software bug, following:
1) Ariane 5 16 bit speed roll over http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ariane_5 [wikipedia.org]
2) Mars Climate Orbiter pound-force/newtons fiasco http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Climate_Orbiter [wikipedia.org]
 

That's sad (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909625)

I'm no rocket engineer, but maybe critical systems like "antenna point toward brightest star" should be analog hardware based.

Re:That's sad (4, Insightful)

bmo (77928) | about 7 months ago | (#44909679)

I'm not a rocket engineer, and I can build a heliostat that tracks the sun with a couple of photodiodes and a long tube with a central divider, but something tells me that a spacecraft that far out might need something more accurate to, you know, not only see the Sun correctly, but actually aim the high-gain antenna at Earth instead of a point halfway between the us and the Moon.

--
BMO

Indeed, it needs a bit more (4, Informative)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | about 7 months ago | (#44910143)

In fact, it needs equipment that can take extreme radiation and hits from dust particles travelling at 10000 km/h and faster. The parts you would use on earth wouldn't last a year in space, probably more like a week. The initial design called for a way shorter life time than they got out of it, so parts failure to sensors or other electronics due to impact or radiation is a likely cause. Try running a car without maintenance for 5 years. You may get lucky and still be driving, but chances are extremely small. This mission was similar to that.

Re:Indeed, it needs a bit more (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 7 months ago | (#44911291)

Try running a car without maintenance for 5 years.

Automakers are now working on cars designed to run without maintenance for five years. As in, before the first maintenance. They contain extended life coolant and synthetic oil. So far, though, two years is about the practical limit, because coolant breaks down whether it's supposed to or not. That's not bad for a vehicle designed for terrestrial use by the untrained.

Re:That's sad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909973)

Analog systems are not immune to bugs, and it would suck to have a system that in some situation gets stuck in an oscillation consuming all of the fuel. At least with software based stuff, if a bug is found after launch but before complete failure, there is a chance of fixing it.

Re:That's sad (2)

Yoda222 (943886) | about 7 months ago | (#44910241)

I'm not a rocket engineer (never done rockets, I'm more in satellites) but I guess that the antenna are trying to point toward the third planet around this brightest star, not the star itself.

And I would say that it's easier to implement a robust (with respect to sensor/actuator failure) pointing system with software than with analog hardware. But that's just a guess, feel free to propose me a good hardware design for that. (in fact that's not true for everything, you can have a gravity gradient stabilisation with no software at all, and spin stabilisation, but you still need software to change/control the spin axis)

Poor NASA (4, Funny)

djupedal (584558) | about 7 months ago | (#44909645)

Can't find water, can't find methane, can't find their DICP - no wonder they have a hard time finding funding :)

Re:Poor NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909823)

space sucks...

Re:Poor NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909911)

down the wormhole......

STUXNET or DUQU?

did they confuse feet and meters again? (1)

raymorris (2726007) | about 7 months ago | (#44909665)

Nm

Re:did they confuse feet and meters again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909875)

It`s not really lost.
SpaceCommand merely sent the copper-slug-shooter to seek and destroy the israeli space weapons in orbit.
the amount of IP pilfering (heinous robbery rather..) done by the israelis and their local-area agents/affiliates/minions for their nefarious purposes in their illegal israeli nuclear-space-weapons program (to say nothing about their photonic space weapons).

Re:did they confuse feet and meters again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909897)

goggles the mind?

Re: did they confuse feet and meters again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44912439)

You are a cock-gobbler?

Glitch? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909755)

It's a feature of course. So that NASA will need to have another probe built, thus will need to pay more money.

Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909861)

it went black (ie it's now a black project)

you actually thought your tax payer money was going to benefit *you* ? HAHA

the spacecraft may still be alive (2)

John_Sauter (595980) | about 7 months ago | (#44909879)

It is possible that the spacecraft is going through layers of falesafes, until it finally just points its solar panels at the Sun, points its radio antenna at Earth, and cries for help. Remember the mission to Eros: http://klabs.org/richcontent/Reports/Failure_Reports/NEAR_Rendezvous_Burn.pdf

Re:the spacecraft may still be alive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909999)

Although in NEAR's case contact was lost for about a day, whereas here it has been lost for nearly 5 weeks. There are limits to how long it can go if not getting enough solar power.

It's out there somewhere. (1)

jtownatpunk.net (245670) | about 7 months ago | (#44909891)

Lemme take another look.

Re:It's out there somewhere. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909945)

take two and pass (the) Jupiler!
bottoms up, and down the bottom of the diamond-mine-on-the-moon, you may find the fossilized remains of the stricken miners.....
comm- In Stella, wildcat SPACE-STRIKES!

uhhhh, yeah, likely stuxnet, or duqu, i mean cmon guys (and women), everyone know the israelis are hiding loads of crap up there....

was wondering what happened (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909913)

i was wondering what happened to the deep impact probe after its encounter with Temple 1. Too bad the probe isn't sending any more scientific data back to earth. Pity. Too bad NASA can't send a robot or space shuttle to fix it like they did with the Hubble Space Telescope.

FIX: Do NOT outsource to InfoSys (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44909969)

Do you want those that ride ON trains to get to work, then have to shuffle past cows in the dirt streets doing your software, or do you want an Bulgarian whose only goal in life is to steal what is yours and make it his? This is what results from outsourcing your IT and software.

Peace! War! Everybody be happy! But outsource at your own peril!

Did it really happen that way? (1)

Spiked_Three (626260) | about 7 months ago | (#44910395)

Given all the conspiracy theories about the NSA lately, at very least these incidents have me dreaming up a new sci-fi novel, if not full out wondering if it was just a coverup for something way more diabolical.

Re:Did it really happen that way? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44910695)

you been hitting de beers rather hard?

Re:Did it really happen that way? (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 7 months ago | (#44910961)

Actually that would be cool fiction - what if the NSA was infiltrated by somebody competent instead of James Bond wannabe toy soldiers that believe in lie detector voodoo or former political hacks that want money funnelled secretly into their pockets?

This is why it's good to open source (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44910421)

Why is it that bad of an idea to open source space related technology that is funded by tax payers? These kinds of problem could potentially be repaired / prevented with open source. :/

Ground Control tp Deep Impact (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44910427)

“This is Deep Impact to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here
am I floating round my tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much (she knows!)
Ground Control to Deep Impact
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Deep Impact?
Can you hear me, Deep Impact?
Can you hear me, Deep Impact?
Can you hear....

“am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do."

V'ger (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 7 months ago | (#44911081)

We thought V'ger was a threat, just wait for D'p Imp'ct to return to Earth. It will destroy us all with copper slugs from the heavens. Unless we can find someone to talk it down...

open source (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44911313)

I'm wondering if a simple taxpayer who funded this project against my will could have at least looked over the code, before this. There is a whole community out there willing to help...

While mildly disappointing it is not really a fail (1)

metaforest (685350) | about 7 months ago | (#44931211)

This probe finished its primary mission and performed an extended observation mission it was not specifically designed to perform and did a very good job... and then en route to a second extended mission it suffered an unrecoverable error...

While it is too bad that the probe has been lost, it did far better than the original design required, and a lot of observations were made long after its primary mission was completed. I say give it a nice memorial and call it above and beyond the call of duty. Great work DICP! RIP.

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