back to article Darmstadt, we have a problem – ESA reveals its INTEGRAL space telescope was three hours from likely death

The European Space Agency (ESA) revealed on Monday that its 19-year-old International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) had a near-death experience last month when failure of a small yet significant part caused it to spin uncontrollably and prevented its solar panels from generating power. According to ESA's blog, …

  1. Chris G Silver badge

    "unexpected explosive events in the Universe".

    If they are unexpected events how do they know where to look?

    Silly questions aside, there are a lot of organisations down here who could learn from the resourcefulness of sattelite and space probe teams who get amazing results from kit such as this.

    1. the small snake
      Boffin

      Re: "unexpected explosive events in the Universe".

      Integral has very large field of view so mostly just stares at big patches of sky and waits to see something. Interesting trick has been done in fact: there is a shield around the main instruments whose job is to spot high-energy charged particles & photons which would hit the sensor from outside the main aperture, so they can be marked as spurious. But people worked out that this shield itself can be used as an instrument, and it can see almost the whole sky because that is its job. So they can use this to spot very high-energy events almost anywhere, such as gamma-ray bursts. This makes it very useful for detecting possible counterparts to GW events.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: "unexpected explosive events in the Universe".

        I would be really worried if there were expected explosions in the Universe

        1. HildyJ Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: "unexpected explosive events in the Universe".

          "I would be really worried if there were expected explosions in the Universe"

          There are, the biggest local one being Betelgeuse.

          Of course, in astronomical terms, "expected" is usually followed by "in the next X million years."

        2. David Haworth 1
          Coat

          Re: "unexpected explosive events in the Universe".

          "We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty." -- Vroomfondel (HHGTTG)

        3. the small snake
          Boffin

          Re: "unexpected explosive events in the Universe".

          All massive stars are expected to explode: these are type II supernovae and also type Ib & Ic. Low-mass stars also may explode in due course if they become white dwarfs and are in binary system with larger companion, from which they accrete matter until they reach a threshold which now is thought to be just before Chandrasekhar limit when carbon fusion starts and causes type Ia supernova. Also are novas which are also known as cataclysmic variable stars.

          Universe is mostly made of expected explosions. Fortunately universe is also big and sparse and stars have quite long lives so explosions mostly are far away.

  2. Mike 137 Silver badge

    " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

    Except of course burger flipping.

    1. 105kayem
      Joke

      Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

      Burger flipping shouldn’t pose much of a problem, I was watching telly last week and some bloke was using a robot wielding a cut throat razor to give some bloke a shave…

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

        "a robot wielding a cut throat razor to give some bloke a shave"

        ...some other bloke a shave. Not surprising really.

        1. adam 40 Silver badge

          Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

          I saw that documentary!

          It was a crap shave as well, in UHD you can plainly see missed stubble.

          But it would flip burgers OK I suppose.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

            Isn’t that an advert for EE with an actor call Kevin Ham in it ?

            1. TheRealRoland
              Joke

              Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

              If that bloke as so much twitches, he would become Kevin Spam, amirite?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

      You can do that from home as well - provided you have space in the road for the delivery guys to park their mopeds.

    3. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

      Bricklaying,floor tiling and car mechanics come to mind too.

      1. Jim Mitchell Silver badge

        Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

        "Car mechanic" is already remote work. Unless you hire one of they guys that actually does come to your house and works on the car in your driveway. Would you notice if your <insert car part here> was repaired at some central facility or in a mechanic's own garage?

        1. ThatOne Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

          > your <insert car part here> was repaired

          Welcome, traveler from the distant past! Nowadays car parts aren't repaired, they are simply changed for new ones. And if the cause of the problem isn't obvious, they keep changing random parts until the problem goes away, after all the customer pays.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

            No, still a huge market for recon parts, as I am a classic fettler I buy them frequently.

            1. phuzz Silver badge

              Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

              Not just classics, it's much easier to pick up a replacement wing mirror or wiper arm for most cars from ebay than pay a dealer to buy it and fit it.

        2. Annihilator Silver badge

          Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

          "Would you notice if your <insert car part here> was repaired at some central facility or in a mechanic's own garage?"

          No, but the mechanic who lives in a flat might struggle with it. I think the point is, the car mechanic is bloody unlikely to be working from home. It might be less cost effective if every mechanic needed their own car lift and wheel balancer, for example. Rather than having access to a central proper garage with a number of mechanics, all sharing some of the more expensive or bulky resources.

          I'd also question whether said mechanic would consider himself working at home if he had to drive to pick up your broken down car...

    4. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

      Why not?

      1. picturethis
        Joke

        Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

        In that picture, I hope that the robot is <done> flipping those particular burgers...

    5. nijam Silver badge

      Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

      > the best argument for ongoing remote work

      Surely they've weren't going out there to fix it before lockdown intervened?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

        You would think that the telescope's on-site staff are suitably quarantined

    6. Ken G

      Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

      Aren't satellite operations team always remote workers?

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

        I think that there have been a few with onsite staff (Mir & ISS) to be fair...

    7. Annihilator Silver badge

      Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

      Delivery driver...

      1. LastTangoInParis

        Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

        Remotely piloted white van?

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

      An automatic burger cooking robot would be simpler than a burger flipping robot... something like a toaster with double sided grill (half the time to grill vs single sided), no flipping required and when done eject it onto pre prepared bread and salad etc...

      Of course someone or something needs to load the machine with burgers, bread, salad, etc...

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: " thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever"

        "Of course someone or something needs to load the machine with burgers, bread, salad, etc..."

        and ultimately, someone has to eat it, unless that could be automated too.

  3. Helstrom

    Random Charged Particle

    "ESA boffins have fingered a random charged particle hitting INTEGRAL's electricals and sparking a changed state as the possible cause of the malfunction."

    Not only has this event made the case for working from home as the author noted, it has also validated the "stray alpha particle" excuse for random failures!

    1. Bill Gray

      Re: Random Charged Particle

      Speaking of good excuses...

      I write software for one of the asteroid-hunting sky surveys that searches for objects that might hit us. Most clear nights, their telescopes will gather images of various chunks of the sky, then look for objects that move against the background of the stars in a straight line. This starts up a few days after a full moon, then runs for about three weeks until a few days before full moon. (Near full moon, the sky background is bright enough that the telescopes really can't see fainter objects well anyway.) All three of the major surveys, one in Arizona and two in Hawaii, follow this cadence.

      At one point, we were trying to figure out a software issue involving getting data from the Minor Planet Center, which gathers all the measured positions of asteroids (astrometry) and tries to make sense of them ("this set of points links up to this set of points; they're the same object"). We eventually figured out that the issue arose during the time near full moon, when MPC was doing much of this linkage work.

      I commented that I've frequently heard software problems blamed on "it must be a full moon", but that this was the first time it really _was_ because "it was a full moon".

    2. Dinanziame Silver badge
      Angel

      Re: Random Charged Particle

      To be honest, I read that line as "we have no fucking clue"

  4. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    A five year mission

    Where have I heard that phrase before?

    Brilliantly successful mission to have lasted so long.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: A five year mission

      It's always the same! You whack together some short term bodge, only supposed to last a short time until a proper bit of kit can be built, and then you find out management havent looked at replacing it for bloody donkeys years!! All because they say, hey, it's still working, no need for a new one after all!!!

      :P

      Beer for the Designers! Great Work! -->

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "To make matters more fascinating, the rescue happened while most of the control team were working from home – thereby presenting the best argument for ongoing remote work, for every job, forever."

    All unmanned spacecraft control is a good argument for remote working.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Happy

      "unmanned spacecraft control"

      And, here, all I have on my two screens is Outlook, Firefox and a boring Teams meeting.

      1. Potemkine! Silver badge

        boring Teams meeting

        Pleonasm alert! :-)

        1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Pleonasm

          Ahhh... El Reg commentards - always educational in sometimes unexpected ways. Today I learnt a new word, thank you.

        2. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

          I had a brainfart and had to look that up.

          Ddg quickshowed me Wordnik. Its 2nd usage is brilliant.

          https://duckduckgo.com/?q=Pleonasm&ia=definition

      2. LastTangoInParis

        I remember playing multi-player Star Trek on Mac SEs back in the 80's. Surely something to be considered alongside those boring meetings?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's really hard keeping a satellite pointing where you want it to be! Left to its own devices it'll start wobbling as tidal forces, solar radiation pressure, atmospheric drag, magnetic moments, all start pushing and pulling and twisting on it and you probably want parts of it to move to keep the arrays pointing at the sun and high gain antenna pointing at other antenna so you can actually communicate with it.

    I want to crowdfund a nanosatellite with a SUPER BRIGHT led and parabolic mirror and Lora antenna and have my own star I can make blink when it passes over places so if you took a long exposure you'd see messages in morse code, but it's a massively complicate engineering effort especially as all the bits need to be rad hardened.. a little arduino would burn out in hours :<

    The idea of blinking out FREE TIBET when it's over the Chinese landmass with the CCP unable to censor it appeals to me :D

    Putting an RGB led on it might be fun too, if I made an app for my niece and let her control it when it passed over Australia, be pretty fun to pick a colour and a second later see a star change colour to match it :D

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