Now, what do you do when your spacecraft starts acting up? Hmmm... we've been in space for over 50 years, but we don't have an orbiting repair shop just yet!
The European Jules Verne spacecraft is currently going through system checkouts as it holds station behind the ISS, waiting for the Space Shuttle Endeavour to complete its mission. Shortly after launch it developed a glitch in its primary fuel system prompting mission managers to switch to a backup.
So, how did they fix it then?
Well, one thing that we have learned in our 50 years in space is that everything sent up there must have as much diagnostics as can feasibly fit in to it. Systems fail in space all the time. The Voyager spacecraft launched in the 70's have now left the solar system, and in the harsh space environment have suffered many failures. Commands sent from Earth have been able to diagnose problems and apply software patches to keep the spacecraft alive.
Diagnostics are a lot more efficient today. By determining that that the glitch was caused by excessive vibrations during launch, the fuel glitch on Jules Verne was diagnosed and completely fixed! Europe now has a 100% healthy spacecraft.
Space Shuttles, although manned, have essentially the same problems. Some systems can be accessed on-board, but the majority are not easily accessible since an astronaut would have to spacewalk to get to them. Shortly after lift-off Space Shuttle Endeavour suffered a glitch in one of its maneauvering thruster pods. This caused a minor issue when separating from the external fuel tank, as extra thrusters had to fire to compensate for the malfunction. The issue wasn't that the thrusters couldn't fire, but that the diagnostic system was unable to report leakage from the fuel system should it have occured. The computer controlling the thrusters removed the pod from the list of available thrusters for safety reasons.
So, how did they fix that one then?
NASA ground controllers sent up a patch that effectively reset the controlling hardware, which resolved the issue completely. Another glitch in a heat dissipation system is of no impact to the mission, and Endeavour is a 100% healthy spacecraft.
Mission managers are still studying a strange debris object that appeared to strike the orbiters nose 10 seconds into the launch. Imagery is inconclusive, but due to the low speed the level of concern is very low. My guess is a birdstrike, but we'll just have to wait and see!
Until next time, happy spacing, Spacers!
Posted by SpaceHead at 10:49 AM