back to article Jaxa's litany of errors spun Hitomi to pieces

Japan's space agency Jaxa has detailed the litany of errors that ended with the failure of its Hitomi (Astro-H) spacecraft. The agency has published a 90-page discussion of what caused the break-up. Their conclusions are pretty damning for the agency, centring around a lack of protocols to manage a major change in the craft's …

  1. RIBrsiq
    Trollface

    So... Kickstarter to buy JAXA a few copies of Kerbal...?

    1. gregthecanuck
      Trollface

      They should have called the spin-doctors.

  2. hplasm
    FAIL

    So-

    Even if it hadn't broken up, it was already broken?

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      Re: So-

      Umm no. A single sensor was broken, giving false data. Other sensors existed to check whether it was giving correct data or not (and would have shown it was giving false data), but were ignored. They therefore undertook "corrective procedures" which were unnecessary. This started the satellite spinning.

      A second failure occurred in a brake (magnetic torquer) which could have halted the spinning. Probably due to being overspun in the first place. Not that uncommon a failure (unfortunately), but not normally mission critical.

      The third failure though was failing to take into account the actual satellite configuration (i.e. fully deployed rather then in a stowed configuration) and applying thrusts which caused the break up of the satellite.

      So basically, a single failed sensor was all that was wrong with it. That should NEVER cause the failure of your satellite. So this was basically a failure of the operations team from start to finish.

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Re: So-

        They subcontracted to the same company that built the Deathstar.

        1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: So-

          Hardly, the Death star was fully operational and worked within it's design parameters.

          External forces acting upon a small but necessary thermal exhaust port in a way thought extremely unlikely caused the destruction (by Space wizards). The second death star again proved itself perfectly operational and again was felled by external interference (though no space wizards involved this time just lots of high explosives). For further details see Open letter from a death star architect.

          1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

            Escape? In our moment of triumph?

            Hitomi worked within design parameters until an error lead to them exceeding those parameters.

            And however small the risk of a torpedo up the jaxi, the consequences for the death star were catastrophic. (And they had the father of the space wizard on their side so they full knew what was possible.) So maybe, just maybe, they should have provided some mitigation: something that might have limited it to explosions in the interior and a loss of power rather than the destruction of the entire station. Or, if the reactor really was that dangerous, maybe they shouldn't have put it at the centre of the bloody station. Maybe they should have put it on a nacelle.

      2. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        Re: So-

        So this was basically a failure of the operations team from start to finish.

        ...sounds like the result of having a team managed by a bunch of MBAs.

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    This is why Japan prefers to fire refurbished WWII dreadnoughts into orbit

    The sequence of events before the break-up, as far as the analysis can determine, started with a problem in the attitude control system

    It always starts with a failure of the attitude control system - the one of the organization.

    It is likely that someone pushed the development team too hard, or not enough money, time, manpower or skill were available, or procedures were generally inadequate and haphazard, or communication channels broke down and proper work was replaced by top-down PHB wish fulfillment activity.

    A bit like what regularly transpires from other Japanese industrial sectors, like the nuclear one.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: This is why Japan prefers to fire refurbished WWII dreadnoughts into orbit

      I think you will find those failings apply to far, far more than Japan.

      However, it seems to permeate to safety-critical stuff in Japan, I wonder if this is a by-product of the social norms where questioning your elders is frowned upon? The Venn diagram for age, experience and wisdom is not one of concentric circles...

      1. Tomato42
        Boffin

        Re: This is why Japan prefers to fire refurbished WWII dreadnoughts into orbit

        questioning people with time seniority in the company is frowned upon in Japan

        we can just hope that this will be a Challenger moment for Jaxa and that they will get their Feynman on it...

        1. DropBear

          Re: This is why Japan prefers to fire refurbished WWII dreadnoughts into orbit

          "we can just hope that this will be a Challenger moment for Jaxa"

          ...and they will most likely conclude that the strict but most fair expectations of senior management were most disgracefully not met by the incompetent developers who might not be ordered to commit seppuku at this time but should definitely take the entirety of the blame for failing their duties to do the impossible...

        2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

          Re: This is why Japan prefers to fire refurbished WWII dreadnoughts into orbit

          But who is the Japanese version of Feynman?

        3. Crazy Operations Guy

          "questioning people with time seniority in the company is frowned upon in Japan"

          There isn't much difference between time seniority in a company and age. Children are expected to work for the same company as their parents upon graduating school. The path everyone is expected to follow is to start training for their father's job at age 16, finish high school, go to the same college as your father, and then get hired at that same company, you then work at that same company until retirement / death. Resigning is considered extremely shameful, so no one ever leaves, but will try to push the company into a new product; this is how you get a conglomeration like Hitachi that makes everything from sex-toys to nuclear reactors. It is also how you get people that are practically killing themselves in a dead-end job for crap pay and incompetent management that tries to do things the exact same way it was done 50 years ago.

  4. msknight

    "The agency has published a 90-page discussion of what the break-up."

    ...is someone using unpatched dictation software again? - Please... for crying out loud... at least buy an upgrade.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rushed job

    From what I hear, they had to get it launched because a financial deadline was approaching. The launch of the observatory was initially delayed due to the tsunami. Perhaps this put some pressure to override some of the usual safety checks.

    This is also the 3rd mission to fail to launch a high spectral resolution X-ray calorimeter instrument. The first failed due to not getting into the right orbit. The second failed because of a design flaw in the cooling chain, which caused all the coolant to escape. There was some pressure to get some observations taken ASAP after launch - perhaps that rushed checks too?

  6. Alan Brown Silver badge

    "Other sensors existed to check whether it was giving correct data or not (and would have shown it was giving false data), but were ignored"

    Japan has had a _lot_ of missions fail and still doesn't seem to be accepting the idea that juniors can/SHOULD query seniors' work.

    In every single case all the paperwork is correct, every documented step has been doublechecked and signed off on, etc. The critical mistakes are baked-in from the outset with no thought given to questioning the spec. Experience shows that when things go wrong in japanese technology there's a LOT of coverup going on afterwards which frequently compounds the "what went wrong" from fixable to disaster scale - one example being Fukushima, which could have been a whole lot worse if the senior engineer onsite hadn't finally broken his conditioning, told Tepco management to go fuck themselves and started doing the stuff which needed to be done to save the plant (If manglement hadn't blocked him from the outset, there may not have been meltdowns or hydrogen explosions). Monju is another example of a japanese clusterfuck, then there's the Mitsubishi wheel bearing scandal on a more mundane level.

    There's an egrarious cultural failure that needs addressing, starting with the institutionalised bullying within the japanese education system where the "odd kid out" gets the crap beaten out of him from a very early age (5-6 years old) whilst the teacher looks on and does nothing - it's taught from a very early age that you will conform OR ELSE, you will not ask questions OR ELSE and you will accept what you are told by your seniors OR ELSE.

    The militaristic cultural model needs fixing. Until Japan faces that reality they'll keep breaking spacecraft and failing to learn from it.

    1. EU time zones
      Headmaster

      Lack of effective Attitude Control System (or process) - widely assumed to be part of the psyche there. And yet Toyota pioneered the approach, in car assembly, that *any* employee can stop the line if there is a problem - in the '60s and 70's in the USA that would get you fired by GM, Ford et al.

      The Techie/Manager interface is always a challenge: my solution? Pay the head Techie so much money that the Managers and Money realise that there's a reason why they pay that person so much, and that it would be a waste to ignore their advice, warnings etc. Don Quixote at your service.

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