back to article ‘Radiation upset’ confused computers, caused false alarm on International Space Station

NASA has suggested that radiation caused a computer malfunction on the International Space Station. Wednesday’s daily station report from the ISS mentioned that the Crew-1 Dragon spacecraft parked at the space station “experienced an unexpected wakeup triggered by false ISS emergency alarms caused by erroneous data from the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What the plan for a solar storm?

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      The sun's popty ping ...

      We're heading into Solar Cycle 25 which is expected to peak by June 2025 so this might just be the start. The Carrington event was cycle 10's peak.

    2. AdamT

      I think (but not sure so feel free to correct!) that the ISS is low enough that it is protected by the Earth's magnetic field for the majority of solar issues. I don't know if it is clear whether this incident was Solar or Cosmic radiation though. And obviously, such protection just reduces the incidence, not stops it altogether.

      If I recall correctly, although there is an increased risk from long term spaceflight (even in the relatively low altitude ISS), the only time that specific events (such as Solar flares) have needed to be considered was for the Moon missions where the astronauts were outside the magnetically protected zone. I don't recall that any special consideration was given to the electronics but as it was significantly "chunkier" back then (yup, technical term, that is) it may well have been much less sensitive to such things!

      I know that solar flares can be an issue for satellites (but not sure whether that is all of them or whether geo-stationary are more at risk, being further out). But, as shown here, computer systems can get messed up by a single bit flip whereas lifeforms are a bit more resistant (but not invulnerable) to similar events.

      1. HildyJ Silver badge
        Boffin

        While they're protected by the Earth's magnetic field I believe for significant events the astronauts do move to more sheltered areas of the ISS and activities like toilet cleaning are curtailed.

    3. werdsmith Silver badge

      Space Station has been up 22 years and a solar cycle is 11 years.

      Some of it was up during the 2003 busy period.

    4. imanidiot Silver badge

      Nowadays we have some early warning, early enough that very worst case if a bad solar flare heads our way they can jump into their vessels (Soyuz and/or Dragon) and get within the atmosphere before it reaches us.

      In less bad cases they take shelter in the more protected parts of the station and ride it out.

      Such events are not entirely unprecedented: https://www.rt.com/news/402946-iss-shelter-solar-flare/

    5. swm Silver badge

      There are different types of radiation. High-energy protons generally don't affect electronics as much as secondary radiation like electrons etc. It is actually safer (in space) to be in a thin-shelled vehicle as a thicker steel wall will produce a particle shower.

      I believe that radiation hardened ICs are available. They are made by over doping the transistors. You won't get the density of a modern CPU but it will survive much more radiation.

    6. PeterM42
      Coat

      What is the plan for a solar storm?

      Solar umbrellas of course!

      I'll get my solar raincoat.

  2. Chris G Silver badge

    A pound of water

    An unusual (to me) use of an imperial weight unit to describe a volume of liquid, allowing even for left pondian foibles it seems odd as they usually go for quarts, cups or ounces.

    But this is space where I would expect metric units of mass or volume.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I would expect metric units

      NASA do use metric, but they have to convert for the (US) public...

      It's a right pain, as NASA TV do the same - which means I have no idea how much trust, how fast. etc. Would it be that hard for them to use both system?

    2. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

      Re: A pound of water

      In most of the world: "A pint of pure water weighs a pound and a quarter" ( a gallon - 8 pints - weighs ten pounds )

      In America: "A pint's a pound the world round"

      Yes, I do see the irony in the second rhyme.

      1. wolfetone Silver badge

        Re: A pound of water

        "In America: "A pint's a pound the world round""

        Which is funny, because when I asked for a pint in a bar in New York I got half a pint.

        1. Chris G Silver badge

          Re: A pound of water

          Yeah, a 16oz pint to a Brit feels as though you have been sold short.

          1. wolfetone Silver badge

            Re: A pound of water

            It's like they don't want you to get drunk!

            1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

              Re: A pound of water

              15 pints is 8.5 litres

              15 American pints is only 7 litres.

              You'd think they'd be in better shape having to go to the bar all those extra times.

            2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

              Re: A pound of water

              That's why they only sell smelly water.

            3. cortland

              Re: A pound of water

              Think of it as a funds reduction.

      2. MrReynolds2U

        Re: A pound of water

        That seems a strange measure to use when they are in near-zero gravity.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: A pound of water

          Confused about the difference between mass and weight?

          Then just use the same unit for both and don't worry about it !

        2. Col_Panek

          Re: A pound of water

          They should have used the international standard for volume, which is Olympic swimming pools.

        3. herman Silver badge

          Re: A pound of water - in low grav

          Up there, a pound of water must be an enormous quantity - several Olympic Swimming Pools full, I would guess. The upshot is that it should be super easy to spot a leak of that magnitude.

          1. John H Woods

            Re: A pound of water - in low grav

            The ISS isn't in low grav at all. It's only a few hundred miles up. Gravity up there is only about 10% lower than it is down here.

            1. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: A pound of water - in low grav

              "The ISS isn't in low grav at all. It's only a few hundred miles up. Gravity up there is only about 10% lower than it is down here."

              But the ISS does not meet the equal and opposite pushing back part of the equation that we have down here, so the picture is not quite complete.

    3. Irony Deficient Silver badge

      Re: A pound of water

      An unusual (to me) use of an imperial weight unit to describe a volume of liquid, allowing even for left pondian foibles it seems odd as they usually go for quarts, cups or ounces.

      Here in Medioleftpondia, US customary units of mass are used for liquids in certain circumstances, e.g. the hundredweight (100 pounds avoirdupois = 45.359237 kg), in which minimum farm prices for raw milk are specified by the US Department of Agriculture.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: A pound of water

        Here in Canada we use metric except for aircraft fuel which we use pounds, unless we are in Quebec when we use Kg, unless we don't feel like it and so use pounds - the difference doesn't really matter anyway

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: A pound of water

          "unless we are in Quebec when we use Kg, unless we don't feel like it and so use pounds - the difference doesn't really matter anyway"

          Wasn;t there a case of a passenger aircraft taking off without the fuel to reach it's destination because of exactly that difference? ie they asked for fuel in Kg and had it pumped in lbs.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: A pound of water

            In a way that the plane didn't - woosh !

          2. Black Betty

            Re: A pound of water

            The Gimli Glider IRCC.

            1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

              Re: A pound of water

              Yup, the Gimli Glider.

              1. cortland

                Re: A pound of water

                EVERYONE remembers that little adventure.

        2. cortland

          Re: A pound of water

          Umm... Gimli Glider?

  3. Steve K Silver badge
    Coat

    Wolowitz space toilet...

    They aren't still using the Wolowitz space toilet are they - that could explain the decrease

  4. Andy The Hat Silver badge
    Happy

    Cat Reactor?

    What will they think of next, hamster-powered generators?

    I suppose in space it all comes down to a weight/energy ratio - if it's one hamster to the kWh but 2.5 cats then the cat reactor wins ... but if porcines are 3.5 kWh then we'll have PIGS IN SPAAAAACCCEEE!

    Keep mew-ving along ...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Cat Reactor?

      The problem with cats in space is that you constantly have to open the airlock to let them out and then they immediately want to come back in.

  5. Dr_N Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Radiological Alert in Space?

    Cylon Attack.

  6. TJ1
    Coat

    Has somone been taking...

    ... the piss?

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Has somone been taking...

      Hopefully that's all they've taken. Mind you, illicit storage for either option gets... messy.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Has somone been taking...

        The problem is that this piss is government property and somebody has signed for it - so they will need to launch some more up there so that the books balance.

  7. TeeCee Gold badge
    Coat

    "~1-pound decrease in the wastewater tank quantity."

    Sounds like somebody's taking the piss.

  8. Archivist

    Radiation hardening

    I'm reminded of when a colleague opened a piece of land-based kit and found a PCB full of a chip we didn't recognise at all. After a quick search we discovered it was the radiation hardened version of a chip that would likely be used in this application. We wondered why they would use chips that potentially cost hundreds of time the amount. The best conclusion was that they were surplus product that never made it into space and they got them for a song.

    Which makes me think that as chip fabrication processes grow smaller, surely the energy to flip one bit becomes smaller too, meaning more bits will get flipped.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Radiation hardening

      Or they were intended for use i an earth bound environment where there was a large amount of ionizing radiation high energy particles.

      1. PeterM42
        Facepalm

        Re: Radiation hardening

        What like Chernobyl?

  9. herberts ghost

    We had computers in Leadville, CO (10,152 ft). Terrible problems with soft errors. In Leadville you need to place your datacenter under 10 feet of water to get the same shielding provided by the atmosphere at sea level.

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