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Cygnus ISS Launch Delayed Due To Sun's Coronal Mass Ejection

Soulskill posted about 7 months ago | from the sol-is-begging-for-attention-again dept.

ISS 30

ClockEndGooner writes "A giant coronal mass ejection from the Sun yesterday has resulted in a higher than normal level of radioactivity, and in turn, forced Orbital Sciences to postpone their first mission launch of the Cygnus space truck to the International Space Station. Citing concerns of the effect increased levels of space radiation may have on the Antares launcher and Cygnus avionics, the NASA and Orbital launch team is now evaluating if conditions will improve for a launch on Thursday, which would have Cygnus arriving at the ISS on Sunday morning." In other ISS news, the Orlando Sentinel is reporting that NASA has gotten approval from the White House to extend the ISS's mission for another four years, pushing the end date back to 2024. An official announcement is expected later this week.

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30 comments

We all know the real cuprit. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900393)

CME? We all know this is the work of Obama and all you obamaites. Stop raining down charged particles on our American freedom.

Re:We all know the real cuprit. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900511)

I ejected a hot mass of sperm up the ass of Obama's sheboon wife last night.

-- Ethanol-Fueled

CME frequency (1)

bob_super (3391281) | about 7 months ago | (#45900417)

We keep hearing warnings about CMEs now that we can actually see them coming.
I'm just wondering how many real-life negative effects they had in the previous decades, when we already had electronics (>15V maybe, but less ESD/SEU protection).

Sure, the general public has many more ways to notice, but it's not like there weren't scientists all around the planet keeping an eye on sensitive equipment 30 years ago.

How bad are those forecasted CMEs on modern electronics, compared to previous unexpected CMEs on old stuff?
Has it turned into a convenient excuse for suppliers, should something fail that day?

Re:CME frequency (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 7 months ago | (#45900501)

Launches and ISS rendezvouses are risky enough on their own. No sense in adding to the risk if you don't need to.

Re:CME frequency (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900509)

If you're living under a significant magnetosphere, only the regions near the magnetic poles tend to notice anything from flares. Canada has an established expectation that they will get power fluctuations with every aurora. Even in those vulnerable regions, consumer grade electronics are safe from the direct effects, and if you have a surge protector, safe from the indirect effects.
Modern consumer grade electronics are built to much tighter specifications and energy tolerances than most historic scientific and military equipment (modern military electronics are EM hardened versions of two year old consumer gear).

However, for those without as much magnetosphere and without the miles of (relatively) dense gasses, every stray blast of solar matter is a cause for concern. Usually concern for the electronics and sensors, sometimes concern for the lives of those aboard.

Re:CME frequency (3, Interesting)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about 7 months ago | (#45900929)

Back in "the day" a little company that called itself Sceptre [sceptre.com] made these wonderful 14" CRT monitors. I had a few clients that had them and they were nice for their price. But every other one we set up would have crazy sync problems and the screen would just wave. Perplexed I called Sceptre to get some insight. The technician matter of factly and very serious instructed me to point the monitor toward the North Pole (we were on the Gulf coast). I suspiciously complied once I figured out which direction was North and viola! wavy screen went away. We had to rearrange the furniture.

Re:CME frequency (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 7 months ago | (#45901049)

Coincidence and person bias. There is nothing in the monitors that require alignment to the pole.

If it really worked, you wouldn't have need to figure out which way north was, you would just move the monitor until it went away.

Re:CME frequency (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45901387)

Not a coincidence at all. CRTs use rapidly switching magnetic fields to aim electron beams at a phosphor screen. There's a fine pitch mask that separates the red, green, and blue pixels and if adjustment was a little "off" or, as in this case, the design is poor then orientation with regards to magnetic north can absolutely cause display artifacts.

Many serious professional CRT displays literally have a setting where you enter the device's alignment VS magnetic north so proper correction can be applied.

Re:CME frequency (2)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about 7 months ago | (#45901481)

There is nothing in the monitors that require alignment to the pole.

So...30+ monitors is coincidence and electro-hypochondria? I'm guessing you never stuck a magnet up to a CRT or had to Degauss one. Since the Earth has this gigantic magnetic field surrounding it it's not hard to see an unshielded CRT being affected.
BTW...How do you think I figured out which direction North was?

Re:CME frequency (1)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about 7 months ago | (#45904415)

BTW...How do you think I figured out which direction North was?

Sceptre Tech: just point it toward the north pole
arhcangel: which direction is that?
Sceptre Tech: uh, just keep rotating the monitor until it's no longer fuzzy. that way you'll know it's north.

Re:CME frequency (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45904467)

BTW...How do you think I figured out which direction North was?

You brought in a Service Dog and watched which way it pooped?

I'm no longer surprised by the number of different things that are affected by the geomagnetic envelope.

Re:CME frequency (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900535)

Google "Carrington Event".

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Actually, take a look at the NOAA Space Weather Scales [noaa.gov] , and you'll see how often different level events occur, and what their outcomes can be.

Re:CME frequency (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 7 months ago | (#45903391)

We keep hearing warnings about CMEs now that we can actually see them coming.
I'm just wondering how many real-life negative effects they had in the previous decades, when we already had electronics (>15V maybe, but less ESD/SEU protection).

Sure, the general public has many more ways to notice, but it's not like there weren't scientists all around the planet keeping an eye on sensitive equipment 30 years ago.

How bad are those forecasted CMEs on modern electronics, compared to previous unexpected CMEs on old stuff?
Has it turned into a convenient excuse for suppliers, should something fail that day?

They're like earthquakes - there are a lot of them, but they vary in intensity. Many are small, some are large.

The big problem is they are charged particles. When the charged particles enter the Earth magnetosphere, they distort it (moving charges, blah blah blah). Which changes the earth's magnetic field. And when you have a changing magnetic field, well, it induces current in wires, notably, nice long transmission lines we use to carry bulk power. Which trips all sorts of protective circuits because these can be quite dangerous current flows. See 1980s and Quebec Hydro, where such a CME took down the grid.

The other thing is, they're ionized particles, so when they hit surfaces, they can emit all sorts of radiation as well, which is how they can also damage satellites too.

They're fairly easy to detect (solar flares travel at the speed of light, we know 8 minutes later), but a CME is a cloud of charged energetic particles that can take hours to more than a week to arrive after said flare.

And when you're experimenting, I suppose you want to control variables - were the errornous readings caused by the CME or were they something else? It's hard to tell, and it's not like you can re-run the experiment again (too much $$$, can't set up same conditions) to see why.

And modern electronics is more vulnerable - the deep sub micron processes we use for ICs and such are far more vulnerable - transistors are using less power to switch so a bit of radiation doesn't have to be too powerful to flip a state. Or destroy it completely.

Apply 5V (or 12V, which is what old school CMOS 4xxx ICs could take easily) to your modern 1.2V CPU, and it'll pop.

OMG! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900485)

Bread! Milk! Eggs!

Umm... (1)

NMBob (772954) | about 7 months ago | (#45900519)

They did know CMEs occur, right? Maybe they are just being cautious the first flight?

Re:Umm... (1)

Megane (129182) | about 7 months ago | (#45901483)

They're worried about the avionics on the vehicle. It would be kind of bad if it got zapped today by something that is likely to be gone tomorrow. Also remember that only Soyuz and Dragon are two-way, so once they detach it from ISS, all it needs to do is a re-entry burn.

Re:Umm... (1)

NMBob (772954) | about 7 months ago | (#45901771)

I was thinking what if they had launched the day before the CME? Surely their stuff must be able to handle it. They must be just taking their time.

Failure To Launch... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900525)

Failure to launch due to premature ejaculation? What?

Indeed... (0)

cyborg_monkey (150790) | about 7 months ago | (#45900699)

The x-ray is her siren song
My ship cannot resist her long
Nearer to my deadly goal
Until the Black Hole ---
Gains control...

In the other news.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900787)

...Stargate travel was also suspended...

Radioactivity? (4, Informative)

dtmos (447842) | about 7 months ago | (#45901035)

Um, no. "Radiation" was the word for which you were looking. "Radioactivity" refers to the particles which are emitted from nuclei as a result of nuclear instability.

There was a significant solar flare at 1832z (1:32 p.m. EST) on 7 January, that bathed the Earth with electromagnetic radiation (X-rays, UV, radio, etc.). This was an X1.2-class flare [spaceweather.com] , meaning that its flux would have peaked at 1.2E(-4) watts/square meter at the Earth's surface, had our atmosphere not protected those of us on the ground from the worst of its effects. The effects of the flare itself (largely attenuation of HF radio signals over the Western Hemisphere during and shortly after the event) are over and done with.

Since this flare was caused by a particular sun spot group that remains active and unstable, Orbital Sciences was concerned about a repeat performance when the Antares' avionics were in the upper atmosphere, and therefore not protected from a second, possibly even more intense, flare that the sun spot may produce.

Concurrent with this flare was a coronal mass ejection (CME), which consists largely of protons blasted out of the sun's atmosphere (the corona). Since these particles are protons, not massless photons, they travel slower than the speed of light, and it takes them a while to get here; they are expected to arrive sometime early on 9 January UTC. However, predictions of CME particle velocity are difficult and prone to error; CMEs can arrive early.

Since the CME could be arriving while the Antares was in operation (the flight was scheduled for liftoff at 1832z on 8 January), and the performance of the rocket's avionics could not be guaranteed in that environment, when this risk was combined with the risk of another X-class flare I think they just decided that a scrub was the wiser choice.

First launch? (1)

Mysticalfruit (533341) | about 7 months ago | (#45901093)

I thought this was their second launch. They've already launched one of these Cygnus resupply missions to the ISS, apparently that one was a demonstration. This is their first commercial launch...

Antares is at risk, not Cygnus (4, Informative)

Cochonou (576531) | about 7 months ago | (#45901203)

Although TFS states that:
Citing concerns of the effect increased levels of space radiation may have on the Antares launcher and Cygnus avionics
It is actually written in TFA that:
The Cygnus spacecraft would not be affected by the solar event.

Having been involved in the design of some of the avionics onboard Cygnus, I can attest that a S2/S3 class solar event [noaa.gov] such as this one is well within the specifications of the spacecraft..

Re:Antares is at risk, not Cygnus (2)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | about 7 months ago | (#45904501)

While it is within the specs for the spacecraft, the effects of the solar event might well have distorted the monitoring and telemetry that are used to gain an increased understanding of the forces acting on the craft during its ascent. Waiting for a quiet moment just so that there is less noise in the record makes sense, especially on the first flights of a new bird.

Apples and Oranges (1)

jasnw (1913892) | about 7 months ago | (#45901341)

The summary (at least) is a bit off on the description. dtmos is close, but still no cigar. The large flare produced three outputs of concern: high levels of x-ray radiation (photons), high levels of high-energy protons, and the CME which is a blast of low-energy (for the sun, anyway) plasma into the solar wind. The x-rays arrive first (at the speed of light, natch) with the high-energy protons not far behind. The shock wave produced by the CME arrives several days later. All of these can cause problems with spacecraft in near-earth orbit, but I suspect that the concern here was those high-energy protons which can damage electronics (and people - this is radiation in the bad old sense). The flux level of those beasts is dropping, but I'm sure NASA is concerned about this sunspot region producing another large flare with another hit from high-energy protons.

The CME, if the shock it produced in the solar wind indeed reaches the earth (this one likely will), can alter the fluxes of high-energy electrons in the earth's radiation belts and will generate active auroral conditions. The ISS is well below the radiation belts, so the CME-produced effects near the earth probably aren't as much of a concern here.

in other, yet related, news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45902187)

the massive CME has apparently caused slashdot to once again force opt-in everyone to the horrible beta interface.

Title (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45902531)

Cyg's Piss Launch Delayed Due To Son's Anal Ass Erection

Mass ejaculation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45903943)

I can't be the only one one misread that...

Space Porn.... (1)

rts008 (812749) | about 7 months ago | (#45905781)

Launch crew:
"Mission Control, we are just waiting for the Money Shot--that's the best part!"

"Coronal Mass Ejection beats bukkake(?-sp?) porn anytime."

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