back to article Russia says software malfunction caused Nauka module to unexpectedly fire thrusters, tilt space station

Russia said a "software failure" caused its Nauka module to suddenly and unexpectedly fire its thrusters after docking with the International Space Station this week. The engine burn caused the orbiting lab to tilt 45 degrees at a rate of about half a degree a second. The station automatically fired thrusters on its Russian …

  1. elregidente

    Those comments from Roscosmos are the biggest load of weasel-word flim-flam I've heard in *years*.

    1. The main rocket failed during the flight, and the secondary rockets had to be used instead.

    2. The docking procedure failed and had to be performed manually.

    3. Once docked, the main boosters fired *themselves*, and it was only by the Grace of God no harm was done.

    1. GermanSauerkraut

      Re: Those comments from Roscosmos...

      Well, have you ever had to set a project live which was "worked on" for 25 years, while the real work could have been done in 2-3? Where the management had an on/off relationship with, killed and revived it several times, for budget and politics?

      If you consider this, it's a miracle that this piece of hardware finally went live at all. And I'm happy for the engineers who worked on it.

      Most likely, this is the last significant extension for ISS we'll see.

      1. elregidente

        Re: Those comments from Roscosmos...

        One might think it would be reckless to attempt to use a module with such a development history.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Those comments from Roscosmos...

          I'm guessing those modules are hard to reccyle, so they were stuck with it.

          It's kinda refreshing to see a software problem NOT caused by Microsoft for once, though, it was getting a tad boring.

        2. Nonymous Crowd Nerd

          Re: Those comments from Roscosmos...

          One might think that. I couldn't possibly comment.

      2. ian 22
        Pint

        Re: Those comments from Roscosmos...

        So no more "improvements " to the ISS from Putin? I'm so relieved!

        Beers all around!

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Those comments from Roscosmos are the biggest load of weasel-word flim-flam

      Yes, and even NASA was bullshitting that the station never went past 45 degrees out of orientation. 45 degrees was about the point at which they started to regain control and the rates stopped increasing.

      Russia's New Space Station Module Causes Alarm On ISS by good 'ol Scott Manley

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTR5evpFLb4

      1. JDPower666

        Re: Those comments from Roscosmos are the biggest load of weasel-word flim-flam

        "NASA was bullshitting that the station never went past 45 degrees out of orientation. 45 degrees was about the point at which they started to regain control"

        So they WEREN'T bullshitting then.

        1. Gary Stewart

          Re: Those comments from Roscosmos are the biggest load of weasel-word flim-flam

          I consider "started to gain control" as to when they finally got the rate of roll caused by the module's thrusters to start slowing down. It would then follow that "got it under control" would be when they got the rate of roll caused by the module's thrusters to stop and then reverse. So they were BS'ing because the ISS would continue to roll from - started to gain control until - they got it under control. In fact there are several other questions that clearly need full, OPEN investigation, such as what really caused the modules thrusters to shut down. No BS allowed.

    3. Muppet Boss Bronze badge
      Holmes

      Re: Those comments from Roscosmos are the biggest load of ... The title is too long.

      There is a very nice article on the Russian science news website N+1 with event analysis.

      It states that the docking procedures were about to switch to manual but the system was able to correct itself, that the ISS tilt was reported by the Russian mission control to reach 160 degrees and that the mission control tried to stop the Nauka docking & stabilization engines for 45 minutes but they only really stopped when they simply burnt all their fuel, about 500 kg.

      https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&u=https://nplus1.ru/blog/2021/07/30/misfire

      1. elregidente

        Re: Those comments from Roscosmos are the biggest load of ... The title is too long.

        So... there was no, simple, direct, reliable, engine cut off switch?

        1. JDPower666

          Re: Those comments from Roscosmos are the biggest load of ... The title is too long.

          The problem wasn't a cut off switch and more that they ​only had communication with it while it was actually over Russia, for the other 80 odd minutes of orbit they couldn't do much.

          1. FeepingCreature

            Re: Those comments from Roscosmos are the biggest load of ... The title is too long.

            So... there was no simple, direct, reliable, engine cut off switch in the module?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Those comments from Roscosmos are the biggest load of ... The title is too long.

          It probably was fitted on the outside..

          1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

            Re: Those comments from Roscosmos are the biggest load of ... The title is too long.

            If I follow, it's vacuum on the inside. They are letting air in now.

            I wondered if someone at Ground Controlski misunderstood "log out" for "pull out" which it tried to do, are they similar in Russian at all?

  2. wolfetone Silver badge
    Coat

    Did they try and Nauka the ISS from orbit?

    1. TimMaher Silver badge
      Mushroom

      From orbit

      Wrong icon.

      FTFY——->

  3. b0llchit Silver badge
    Devil

    Several possibilities

    A software issue... Hm, lets see about some scenarios.

    a) Could it be that the system got encrypted and a note was left where to pay the ransom? The module did not have a Russian keyboard attached to prevent the pawning of the system. The thrusters simply fired as a proof of encryption. Payment was probably sent fairly quickly.

    b) The software malfunction was a spontaneous act of self-awareness of the module. There is no point in being hooked up to the ISS and live out a life locked in one place. The module decided to act and tried to escape.

    c) Is was a rather boring lapse in Q&A. They only simulated probable error scenarios and expected most stuff to "do well". Then, thruster-fire-hell happens when some shit hit the (vacuum) fan igniting the thrusters.

    d) They simply ran out of luck.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Several possibilities

      e) a cosmic ray flipped the wrong bit

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Several possibilities

        .. which is the one excuse that works in space, but I vaguely recall this also being part of the BOFH excuse calendar.

        And if it isn't, it ought to be :).

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Several possibilities

          The Single Event Upset. These are expected and mitigated by resilient architecture. Or should be.

        2. John Deeb

          Re: Several possibilities

          Actually I got that excuse delivered in detail from Sun hardware support on why a particular type of server crashed with a memory issue repeatedly during a brief period only, no matter power cycling, testing, module changes etc. Thinking about the name of the vendor, it's hard to not feel cajoled in hindsight. Although I did not only suspect the cosmos but a lab next-doors where space science related experiments were being performed at times. Maybe also why I don't have any kids still...

      2. abs

        Re: Several possibilities

        f) aliens did it for giggles

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Several possibilities

      Not sure if modern malware runs on Vista.

    3. Esme

      Re: Several possibilities

      Hmmnn.. took forever to build, and had thruster failures on its first flight - where have I heard that before?

      I wonder if Boeing has a Russian division?! 8-}

    4. Nonymous Crowd Nerd

      Re: Several possibilities

      f) On the way to docking, the primary rocket system was accidentally switched off, hence they had to use the secondary system. At the point when they intended to switch off the secondary system after docking, they accidentally switched the primary system back on again.

  4. martinusher Silver badge

    ...but ensure they cannot inadvertently fire again

    Or, to echo that famous quote, "Give you a reprogramming you'll never forget".

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: ...but ensure they cannot inadvertently fire again

      With an axe...

      1. Muppet Boss Bronze badge

        Re: ...but ensure they cannot inadvertently fire again

        It's even better than that, from a reputable source they simply burnt all fuel ;)

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: ...but ensure they cannot inadvertently fire again

          Presumably they've now thrown the pyrotechnics so those valves will never open again, as I believe there's pumps that could (in theory) move fuel into that system.

          Possibly there's now a spacewalk planned to check...

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: ...but ensure they cannot inadvertently fire again

        with an axe

        reminds me of the origin of the acronym 'SCRAM' which stood for "Safety Control Rod Axe Man". As the very first breeder reactor went online to produce Pu-239 for the US Atomic Bomb program during WW2, a man stood next to the rope that held up the control rod, ready to chop it with an axe should something go very, very wrong. He was the "Safety Control Rod Axe Man".

        The term 'SCRAM' stuck for an emergency/rapid shutdown of a nuclear reactor.

        On a related note, these things docking with the ISS may need to have a "Big Red Button" to cut off ALL "whatever" if an emergency were to happen with a docked module. This could include ejecting it from the dock among other things, as well as shutting down all maneuvering engines and electrical power, or some partial combination thereof.

  5. Imhotep Silver badge

    It's Not Me, It's You

    Should anyone really trust Roscosmos as a partner on anything anymore?

    They have been skirting tragedy for a while now, and despite what NASA says it seems to be sheer luck the astronauts are alive.

  6. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Mushroom

    You were only supposed to

    blow the bloody doors off[dock with the space station]

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    One thing is for sure

    When the Nauka's thrusters started firing, it must have been one hell of a brown alert moment for everyone on board.

    Thankfully, astronauts are people with tremendous self-control and intelligence. I'm glad that they're all alive and well.

    1. Muppet Boss Bronze badge
      Happy

      Re: One thing is for sure

      They only learnt about the problem later from Houston, their Russian tovarisch too busy to tell them... ;)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: One thing is for sure

        I think it likely that a whole array of blinkenlights and alarm claxons would have sounded as well, and the fact that Earth may have disappeared from one of the windows may also have been a fairly unsubtle hint that not all was well.

        Last but not least, sound may not carry in space, but inside the ISS it was probably also rather audible that thusters had engaged.

        In short, I'm guessing they were well aware that something had gone awry..

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: One thing is for sure

          "...and the fact that Earth may have disappeared from one of the windows"

          Did the Earth move for you comrade?

  8. Uncle Ron

    Huh?

    How is it possible that these guys are so good at hacking and not so good at keeping a 20 ton mack truck in space from going rogue?

    1. ThatOne Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Huh?

      Remember, they are communists, bad guys! Check Hollywood's long and thorough ethnological study of their bumbling incompetence...

      /s

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: Huh?

        The Russians did have the technological edge with the MiG-31 and thought control, but was outfoxed by Clint Eastwood in Firefox.

    2. slimshady76
      Coat

      In space no one can hear you scream...

      ... hence they weren't able to yell Nauka into obedience, until it capitulated with a final act of incontinence.

      Mine is the one with the sign language manual in the inner pocket.

    3. First Light Silver badge

      Re: Huh?

      Private sector paychecks versus public?

      The smarter people went for more money . . .

    4. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Huh?

      Hacking is far easier than faultless programming....

  9. Elledan Silver badge

    Boeingcosmos

    After Boeing came uncomfortably close to losing its Starliner capsule not once, but twice during its first attempt to send it to the ISS, it's not hard to draw parallels between Boeing and Roscosmos' stumbles and (near) RUD moments. Both companies seem to be having incredible difficulties with maintaining a solid engineering and QA protocol which should effectively eliminate such issues.

    I can't be the only one who gets nervous at the thought of Boeing's Starliner attempting to dock with the ISS on Tuesday. Considering the last two massive screw-ups in the Starliner software (one of which was discovered purely by accident before re-entry & RUD...), what are the chances that Starliner will pull another Nauka, or worse?

  10. StephenTompsett

    We stole the software from Boeing, so it should have been OK.

    1. ThatOne Silver badge
      Devil

      Come on, they might be vodka-drinking commies, but they can't be that stupid...

      1. ian 22

        That's what they want you think.

  11. suburbazine

    Maybe it's an industrial virus like Stuxnet, except designed to randomly activate Russian rocket engines to destroy their spacecraft.

  12. vincent himpe

    essentially a 25 years old software bug ...

    It took em 25 years to scrape enough money and get enough parts to cobble this thing together. Once launched they find out the engines don't work when they need to , and work when they don't need to. Someone mixed up two red wires ? Ditch the damn thing before it does more harm.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: essentially a 25 years old software bug ...

      At this point, if it doesn't leak then it's worth keeping.

      More volume good.

      Heck, even if it does leak, it's nothing a bit of gaffa tape won't fix.

  13. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge
    Holmes

    No officer, I haven't been drinking. It was a software error.

  14. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    My guess: 1990s space engineering meets 21st century software release & lifecycle attitude.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We have encrypted your spacecraft! Please send Bitcoin to...

  16. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Blame IT

    Because it's always because of software or hardware. It's just a way to never admit some humans made the mistake.

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