back to article NASA's Chandra probe suddenly becomes an EX-ray space telescope (for now, anyway)

October is shaping up to be a lousy month for NASA. First, the Hubble space telescope went into hibernation. Then a Russian Soyuz rocket failed to get its astronauts and kit up to the orbiting International Space Station. And now the American agency's Chandra X-ray Observatory, tens of thousands of miles from Earth, is kaput – …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Windows 10 ?

    "has been circling Earth for nearly 20 years, spontaneously put itself into safe mode at 0955"

    I wonder if it has just updated itself? :o)

    Fingers crossed NASA can get it up and running again without loosing any critical functionality. My mind boggles as to how you start to diagnose and assess issues on something so remote....

    1. Jos V

      Re: Windows 10 ?

      I know right? It really fascinates me how this is done. I know it's all technically possible with our current technology, but I'd love to be that fly on the wall and see how.

      Technology is beautiful in its complexity. Bravo to the engineers making it all work!

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        It's in the telemetry. Remember the film Apollo 13 ? Some of the brightest minds on this planet planned that mission, and NASA has experience in determining what it needs to know in order to find out what goes wrong.

        This is not your bullshit Windows telemetry, this stuff was set up by Engineers, with a capital 'E'. They'll figure out something, I'm pretty sure of that.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          " NASA has experience in determining what it needs to know in order to find out what goes wrong."

          With Apollo 13 (contrary to the movie), every single thing that was done (including the filter hack) had been worked out on the ground a long time before the mission.

          Let's see if this latest safing has already been simulated and planned for.

      2. Portlandia vermite

        I know right?

        It's easy to be a fly on the wall, just get yourself a degree in engineering. You already have the wonderment of how things work, the apparent desire to improve yourself, and the expert command of horribly, horribly outdated catchphrases.

        It's never too late to get that degree. I was a technician for a large corp who's name starts and ends with X and was designing circuit boards using ProE. Finally got my BS in Engineering when I turned 50, along with bigger board designs and a 5% raise.

    2. enigma-it

      Re: Windows 10 ?

      If it's gone into Safe Mode ok, then likely someone plugged in a USB device with a dodgy driver.

  2. Rich 10

    Once again, a piece of NASA hardware has long outlived expected service time, and it is experiencing a probable transient fault, and the article makes it sound like a major failure. Doesn't the Reg realize that Scottie is just pulling his "I'm giving it all I can" thing so that when he does get it fixed he will look like a hero?

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      And never listen to the engineers when they say it will take 4 hrs to fix this thing....... because we all know it will actually take 10 mins and a 3hr 50 min tea break......

      1. Mage Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        we all know it will actually take 10 mins

        I really really hate that meme. The company director believed it and always halved or less the already optimistic R&D schedules. He'd also go behind the backs of R&D Director and team leaders and ask all the most junior people on the projects for estimates. He really thought (mid 1980s) that ST--TOS Scotty was really how engineering worked. Despite having a degree in Engineering. Promoted to management of a small R&D dept too early and then somehow ended up boss of a different Tech company.

        Then in a panic later would insist on moving staff, transferring people from test and hiring. It EXTENDS delivery time to change the team. Making it too big creates communication problems. The lead HW & SW experts end up "managing" and creating new reports instead of doing design, bench debugging/development and programming. Clueless people end up creating schematics and code.

        The projects then fail.

        Most projects fail due to bad management, not the actual expert engineers. Or vulture capitalists. Yes, I'm bitter about all the wonderful project proposals and R&D projects in maybe seven companies that came to nothing over nearly 45 years.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: we all know it will actually take 10 mins

          " It EXTENDS delivery time to change the team. "

          "The Mythical Man-Month" by Fred Brooks (1975) should be compulsory reading for anyone entering IT technical management.

          It used to be reckoned that a sensible rule of thumb was to multiply engineers' estimates by three - and sales peoples' by ten.

          Our company once poached a supposed whizz senior technical manager from a competitor. He then brought in his buddies to replace existing staff. The result was that our innovative development products were quickly degraded to look like that competitor's products.

          Team sizes also grew - with the existing good techies being "promoted" to managing new hirings.

          Someone once had to say to him - "You don't get a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant"

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Rule of thumb

            The one i was taught by the older experienced business project managers was to take the initial IT department estimate then “double it and add a third”. I was highly sceptical at first as a young PM, but they were proven to be right on most occasions.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: we all know it will actually take 10 mins

          "I really really hate that meme"

          Sometimes it is true - if the engineer really knows what they are doing and understands how a knowledgeable tweak - not a blister bodge - will fix the root cause properly.

          The company once posted me as a green - but technically very capable - youngster to another country's subsidiary. I quickly sorted their "impossible" IT technical problems that had their local staff foxed. Unfortunately I made it look easy and the local staff resented the (actually correct) implicit slur on their technical abilities.

          I later found that my predecessor ex-pat had also fixed similar problems quickly. More politically astute - he had then spent the rest of the week on the beach.

        3. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ

          Re: we all know it will actually take 10 mins

          "I really really hate that meme."

          my major malfunction is that I am crap at estimating timescales for job completion. My general rule of thumb is however long I think it will take, double it, get my PA (aka the missus) to check the times, she usually doubles that, and then I just about get done with a seconds to spare....

          I have gotta say I do work better when time is limited, and I believe Parkinson's Law comes into play a lot of the time...

      2. Craig 2

        re: it will actually take 10 mins and a 3hr 50 min tea break......

        Estimated repair time is always infinite, until you hit the solution :)

      3. Pedigree-Pete

        3hr 50min tea break....

        Boris. Shhhhhhhhhhhhh. PP

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Just the fact that this probe has exceeded it's time is remarkable.. Maybe it's just time to accept that nothing lasts forever, especially in space and perhaps budget for newer probes before the "old" ones die.

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

      It's difficult to budget for replacements when the gubbermint keeps cutting said budget.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "It's difficult to budget for replacements when the gubbermint keeps cutting said budget."

        This is the trouble with buggerment budgeting. If you don't spend this year's budget next year's gets trimmed back to match. In this case it's probably "You're still using the old one so you don't need a new one.".

  4. Mage Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    NASA fixers

    They've achieved some marvels. I do hope they can extend Hubble and Chandra somewhat. Good to see ESA/CNES, Japan, India and maybe China doing some science in space these days now that the USA is determined to have mostly only military & commercial funded projects and privatisation. Perhaps a future US President will boost NASA.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: NASA fixers

      "Perhaps a future US President will boost NASA."

      Perhaps NASA should boost the current US President into a low, degrading Solar Orbit.

  5. Glen 1 Silver badge

    Failure modes

    I wonder if attempting to recover the craft (or any 'busted ship') would give us greater insights into how/why components fail.

    It would give us more accurate MTBF estimates, and perhaps avenues of research to make these amazing machines even more reliable. Generation ship anyone?

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Failure modes

      NASA keeps mission hardware "copies" operational in their ground testing facilities. Most of the failures they encounter out there in the mission craft are also seen in the earth based hardware. That allows them to find out how to detect the failure mode with the sensors on the spacecraft or find out what the readings mean for hardware with similar runtime.

      They don't need to bring the craft back for that. In any case Chandra is in a bad orbit for recovery.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Failure modes

        In any case Chandra is in a bad orbit for recovery."

        ...and went up in a shuttle cargo bay, so you'd need a working shuttle to bring it back. Even if the Shuttle was still flying, could it bring back that amount of mass to a safe landing?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Failure modes

          No it couldn’t

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          ...if the Shuttle was still flying, could it bring back...?

          Nope - the Shuttle could only get to LEO (Low Earth Orbit) whereas at its closest approach to Earth (perigee) Chandra is a little over 14,000 km away.

          Furthermore, when Chandra, or any object in orbit, is at perigee it is also traveling at its fastest, so as well as not being able to reach Chandra, the Shuttle wouldn't have the delta-V to be able to accelerate to match velocities with it and then decelerate to return to Earth.

        3. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Went up in a shuttle cargo bay

          And was boosted to the current orbit by another rocket.

          Even if the shuttle were still flying today, Chandra's orbit would be out of shuttle range, so landing that mass safely is a very moot point.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Failure modes

          so you'd need a working shuttle to bring it back.

          No problem, the US has the X37. Unfortunately the Pentagon made the payload bay rather too small, so they'd need to bring Chandra back in pieces.

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Failure modes

      Yes, dock it at the ISS to avoid re-entry damage or contamination.


      Oh drat. We might not have the ISS much longer :)

  6. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Painful headline for geeks.

    exahertz ray telescope becomes ex-ray.

  7. roger 8

    I wish they could build central heating boilers to last that long nowadays. they used to be able to do it

    1. Just A Quick Comment

      Same with washing machines and TVs. They could build to last but that doesn't create turnover in the profit and loss account, so we have to cough up for 'newer and better' every five to ten ytears...

    2. MrRimmerSIR!

      They still do

      (without sounding too middle class). The manufacturer you are looking for is called "Miele". It was about double the price of an equivalent Bosch, but we got a 10 year p&l warranty on our current (and first Miele) washing machine. Virtually all our previous ones have lasted 3-5 years before becoming uneconomical to repair however one family I know have had their Miele for 20, and that includes washing the rather horsey clothing of their daughter (sounds posh, smells not so).

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Portlandia vermite

    engineering sense

    NASA contracts probably includes significant penalties for probes failing before required lifespan, and rewards for extended life. Common business and engineering sense would ensure that these probes are designed for 4x-5x required lifespan, so longevity is not at all surprising.

  10. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Fingers crossed

    Hope they get Chandra up and running again. Even if they don't, it has been a stunning success

  11. spold Silver badge

    Call the help desk

    Apparently the offshore helpless desk just told them to switch it off and switch it back on again.


    (I'm sure one day there may be NASA offplanet help desks that will be just as useless. Press 1 for Martian, 2 for Klingon.... your subspace call is really important to us... current wait-time is 25 earth days...)

  12. hoola Bronze badge

    James Webb Telescope

    The real problem is that all four of the NASA space telescopes are old and will be subject to failures. The next generation of space telescope is the James Webb Space Telescope. This project is grossly over budget, perpetually delayed and currently keeps failing test. Some of this is down to incompetence but a lot is all about waving the flag about how clever NASA are.

    The costs of the JWST are just astronomical:

    1996 $1 billion, 2007 launch

    2018 £9.7 billion 2021 launch

    If this does get launched there are just so many things to go wrong it will really be a miracle if everything works.

    What is even more scary is that there is another NASA telescope, WFIRST is also over budget and delayed. To be fair, Hubble was also overran with an initial budget of $200 million but ended up at $1.2 billion plus the cost of fixing the mirrors. The thing is that there was always as good change of success. The new platforms are just so complicated and experimental that they risk being obsolete by the time they are commissioned. Improvements in ground-based telescopes and the significantly lower costs are eating into the space telescope's viability every year.

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