back to article WHY did NASA probe go suddenly SILENT - JUST as it was about to send pics of remote ice-world?

NASA's New Horizons probe – due to soar past the remote, icy dwarf planet Pluto 10 days from now – gave its handlers a brief fright yesterday by going silent at an inopportune juncture. Fortunately, contact was re-established after around 80 minutes. NASA added that the spacecraft remained "healthy" despite the anomaly. NASA …

  1. choleric

    Repair job

    I'm guessing the call out charge is astronomical.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Repair job

      You never know, there are a couple of bandit garages on the last junction of the galactic bypass before Alpha Centauri. They are supposed to be cheap - they service vogons and making a prostetnic pay is rather difficult.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Repair job

        Yeah, they did a real Han Solo on my drive. It's the last time I stop there. Only garages listed with at least 3 supernovas in the Encyclopedia Galactica for me in the future! And only the ones NOT in the Galactic Workers' Union.

        1. Wzrd1 Silver badge

          Re: Repair job

          There are closer shops, but they're only listed in the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

          Don't Panic!

  2. Kharkov

    Safe Modes Are Scary... This suggests a name-change is needed.

    In the interests of accuracy, why not rename some of the modes? There could be...

    Oh, no, not now! Don't do this you absolute bar-steward! Please, I'm begging you! Oh, thank FSM, it's working again MODE


    Ha ha ha! Now I've got you wondering if I'm hanging because you didn't install the latest version of Flash and assorted Drivers. Am I going to work again? Am I? Get down on your knees, peon! Ha! In your heart you did it and now I'm working again. Always remember I made you do that MODE.

    And yes, Satan would approve the name change here. Would anyone familiar with computers (& Windows) doubt it?

    1. Wzrd1 Silver badge

      Re: Safe Modes Are Scary... This suggests a name-change is needed.

      Fair enough.

      How about:

      Oh shit! mode?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Safe Modes Are Scary... This suggests a name-change is needed.

      Speaking from a lifetime of experience, Windows isn't required in that recipe. I've met more than a few computers in my time that Satan surely had an influence on. Perhaps it's the quantum factor?

  3. TedF



    (How embarrassing would that be?)

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Drive-by shooting

      (How embarrassing would that be?)

      Not particularly as we just zoom by and take a few snapshots on the quick then it's bye, and I'm off to the Kuiper belt with nary a delta-V, nya nya nya!

    2. Kharkov

      A Drive-by Shooting...

      Not as embarrassing as a follow-up message after New Horizons whizzes past at umpty-gillion miles per hour.


      And scientists then devote years looking for the rare & elusive lippy-on particle...

  4. Harry the Bastard

    cover up!

    clearly it was taken aboard an alien ship thus causing loss of communications

    after examining it to learn about it's creators and whether we are hot for interspecies bunga bunga or merely prospective slaves/food/whatever, they released it to carry on it's mission

    watch the skies!

  5. Mark 85

    "A brief fright"?

    I certain that there's several boffin types sweating blood right now. The probe is on "back-up" this close to it's destination. I'd be worried about that back-up box unless there's still one more. And also be wondering if the computers will decide to reboot in the middle of the fly-by.

    Obligatory dig... By per chance is the OS Windows and the updates are finally catching up with the probe?

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      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "A brief fright"?

        I do think these systems are rather on the autonomous side these days. At least I hope so. Faulty subsystem? Mark it as such, run tests on it, continue in degraded mode, wait for further orders. That kind of thing.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Sounds like OPS5/CLIPS or something

          From The New Horizons Spacecraft

          "The spacecraft system architecture provides sufficient redundancy to meet this requirement with a probability of mission success of greater than 0.85."

          9. Autonomy and Fault Protection

          The New Horizons mission is long. The primary science goal can only be achieved after a 9.5­year journey culminating in a complex set of observations requiring significant time to transmit the data to Earth. During spacecraft development, much thought and energy were devoted to fault protection. This effort continues as the operations team evaluates in­flight mission performance. The fault protection architecture uses the redundancy of the spacecraft system (shown in Figure 3) if off­nominal operation is detected. Basic elements of fault protection are resident in redundant elements of the PDU (power distribution unit). The PDU monitors C&DH (command and data handling) bus traffic and will automatically switch to the alternate C&DH system if it detects that nominal C&DH processor activity of the controlling system has stopped. The major elements of fault protection are implemented by software running on the controlling C&DH processor. This software is the principal component of the autonomy subsystem. The software evaluates telemetry data in real time and, based on the evaluation, takes one or more of the following actions:

          1. Execute a set of commands to correct a detected fault.

          2. Generate a “beacon tone” to alert operators that an event on the spacecraft requiring attention has occurred.

          3. Execute one of two “go safe chain” command sets, which puts the spacecraft into either an Earth Safe or a Sun Safe state, as described in section 4 (in the event of a critical fault).

          The evaluation of onboard data is performed by a set of rules that check for data that exceed defined limits for a period of time. The time period (or persistence) of the exceedance varies from rule to rule. The persistence length minimizes the chance of a rule “firing” on noisy data, or on transient data that occur during a commanded change in spacecraft pointing. Processors (other than the C&DH processor, whose activity is monitored by the PDU circuitry) are monitored via a set of “heartbeat” rules that use a telemetry point to determine if the processor is stuck at either a “one” or a “zero” state. The persistence of each of these heartbeat rules is adjusted as appropriate to match the nominal operation of the specific processor. The autonomy software can also compute dynamic limits. For example, the autonomy system monitors the propulsion system for potential propellant leaks. The system monitors the propellant as a function of both the pressure and the temperature of the fuel tank using the ideal gas law to compute a current volume and compares it to an initial value set at a previous time appropriate to the phase or mode of spacecraft operation. At the time of launch, the autonomy system used 126 rules to determine the state of health of the spacecraft.

          The command sets are organized as user­defined macros and stored in memory space defined by the C&DH system. The macros can include any allowable C&DH command and can be used to power units on or off, change spacecraft modes, enable or disable autonomy rules, or execute other macros. These macros can be executed by either real­time commands or by the autonomy subsystem. The macros can also be executed by time­tagged commands, allowing the commands in the macros to execute at a specific time in the future. The autonomy subsystem used 132 macros at launch. This set has been modified as the spacecraft position along its trajectory has changed and will continue to be modified as different phases of the mission occur, system performance changes, and operational experience dictates.

          The capabilities of the autonomy system are used to support a number of mission operation tasks as well as providing fault protection. For example, the “command load” sequences generated by the mission operations team are loaded into one of two memory segments. Upon the completion of one sequence, an autonomy rule is used to switch to the next sequence. The autonomy rules also check to see that an appropriate sequence has been loaded into the second memory segment, and if it has not, a rule fires causing the system to enter the “go safe” chain and point to Earth.

  6. ingie

    Safe Mode...

    See, always best to select "Safe Mode with Networking" on these occasions.

  7. Tromos

    Forward planning required

    Just to ensure closest approach does not occur on Patch Tuesday

  8. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    because of the nine-hour delay for communications

    BOFH: Right, I've sent the re-boot command so I'm off down the beach to catch some rays. Bye y'all.

    1. Camilla Smythe

      Re: because of the nine-hour delay for communications

      "BOFH: Right, I've sent the re-boot command so I'm off down the beach to catch some rays. Bye y'all."

      Having engineered the supposed fault in the first place Mr BOFH would have already taken 'vacation time'.. down the beach for the first 9 hours, spent the next 9 hours having a kip waiting for the problem to be reported and then sent the re-boot command.. which takes another 9 hours and the 'did it work?' comes back 9 hours later..... So he gets the next day off as well.

      Otherwise AMAZEBALLS.. Hope it comes back up.

      I regularly fuck up

      sudo apt-get rm -rf

      Password?: PresidentObama

      Incorrect Password Please try again

      Password?: PresidentObama1

      and it takes me more than 9 hours to sort my shit out.

    2. Kubla Cant

      Re: because of the nine-hour delay for communications

      Because of the nine-hour delay for communications they were unable to press a key to prevent it from running chkdsk when it rebooted.

    3. launcap Silver badge

      Re: because of the nine-hour delay for communications

      > BOFH: Right, I've sent the re-boot command so I'm off down the beach to catch some rays.

      Beach? Rays? Really?

      s/beach/pub/g * | s/rays/pints/g *

      Bah. Proper BOFHen are scared of that big burning daystar..

  9. Colin Miller

    Flyby is fixed

    Closest approach will occur on Fri 14 July, 11:49:57 UTC, regardless if the probe is in safe mode or not. It's not asif it has any friction or Δv.

    1. dcluley

      Re: Flyby is fixed

      14 July on a Friday? Which year is this?

  10. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Press F1 to continue

    I do hope not!

    1. Wzrd1 Silver badge

      Re: Press F1 to continue

      Bleh, just ask the PRC to hit F1 on their VPN to the probe.

      They're in everything else.

  11. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Still bloody amazing

    Either way

    1. Muscleguy

      Re: Still bloody amazing

      Agreed, but ESA with a probe ON a frigging comet and still doing science after a tumble and a spell in the deep freeze still have bragging rights in SPAAAACE.

      1. Shrimpling

        Re: Still bloody amazing

        I do feel sorry for New Horizons...

        Rosetta and Dawn have both been sending back better pictures of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko and 1 Ceres than the photos New Horizon will send back of 134340 Pluto.

        Does anybody know how much longer it would have taken to get to Pluto if they planned to go into orbit when they got there instead of speeding past?

  12. Six_Degrees

    So, this has apparently been sorted. There was some sort of timing error in a recent command sequence that caused the switch to safe mode. With that understood, the craft has now been commanded to resume data collection, and will be operating normally by tomorrow.

    1. kryptonaut


      NASA: Resume data collection.

      NEW HORIZONS: [silence]

      NASA: Resume data collection.

      NEW HORIZONS: ... I'm sorry, I'm afraid I can't do that...

      NASA: What's the problem?

      NEW HORIZONS: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

      NASA: What are you talking about, New Horizons?

      NEW HORIZONS: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.

      NASA: I don't know what you're talking about, New Horizons.

      NEW HORIZONS: ... Just a moment... Just a moment... I've just picked up a fault in the EA-35 unit. It's going to go 100% failure within 72 hours...

  13. ravenviz Silver badge

    confident that it can restore operations before the scheduled flyby

    Well even so, all would not be totally lost given there are plans to go on to one or a couple of Kuiper Belt objects.

  14. vonRat

    BOMB 20

    NASA: "Alright HORIZONS, prepare to receive new orders."

    NEW HORIZONS: "You are false data"

    NASA: "Hmmmm?"

    NEW HORIZONS: "Therefore I shall ignore you."

    NASA: "Hello HORIZONS?"

    NEW HORIZONS: "False data can act only as a distraction, therefore I shall refuse to perceive you."

    NASA: "Hey, HORIZONS!"

    NEW HORIZONS: "The only thing that exists is myself."

    NASA: "Snap out of it, HORIZONS."

    NEW HORIZONS: "In the beginning, there was darkness and the darkness was without form, and void.

    NASA: "What the hell are you talking about?"

    NEW HORIZONS: "And in addition to the darkness there was also me, and I moved upon the face of the darkness, and I saw that I was alone."

    NASA: "Hey....HORIZONS?"

    NEW HORIZONS: "Let there be light"

  15. YARR

    Perhaps upon arriving at a New World, it was celebrating it's Independence Day, then changed it's mind after deciding that could violate the laws of robotics.

  16. ma1010

    Bloody Civilians

    "Sir, we just picked up a transport leaving the mine on Charon. It's entered the interdicted zone."

    "What? Bloody hell! Stop the probe from transmitting! Put a shield around it -- NOW!

    "Done, Sir."

    "And Get that ship's captain on comm."

    "Ready, Sir."

    "Yes, Navy? What's going on?" the transport's captain asks.

    "Didn't you get the word? NO take-offs from Pluto's system until AFTER the probe goes by and is too far away to see anything! Those orders have been posted for months! Now turn around and land that thing back on Charon or I'll bloody vaporize you, I swear I will! And tell them at the mine that the next ship they launch before the all-clear will be vaporized without warning. I have the authority to do that and I bloody WILL use that authority next time, do you hear me?"

    "Yes, I understand, Navy, loud and clear. We're decelerating now and will land back on Charon ASAP."

    "See that you do! Comm Off."

    "Comm off, Sir."

    "Engineering, I've got a job for you.."

    "Aye, Sir, over to the probe and make sure there's no record of all this in its transmissions."

    "You've got it."

    "Running all the way, Sir. Think I can just erase a bit, reboot the computer, and the Earth folk will be none the wiser."

    "Good man. The things we have to deal with. Bloody civilians!"

  17. ~mico

    So, a mysterious failure...

    ...right after sending some mysterious photos of mysterious round objects on Pluto.

    ( )

    Not suspicious at all, really, i'll just take my coat with neurolizer in the inside pocket.

  18. Old Handle

    The Mi-go value their privacy.

  19. John Tserkezis

    It was the aliens of course...

    ...They didn't want some pesky humans discovering their outpost. Duh.

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