back to article Space truck Cygnus left idling outside ISS after data format snafu borks docking

The operators of Cygnus – a commercial unmanned spacecraft sent on a demonstration mission to the International Space Station – have been forced to delay its docking with the microgravity laboratory after they discovered a software glitch. It means that Cygnus won't dock with the ISS until Saturday, 28 September, at the earliest …

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"Unexpected item in the docking area"

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And the unexpected reply was

"I'm sorry, I can't do that Dave."

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Happy

This new schedule will allow the Orbital operations team to carefully plan and be well-rested

...after a wild night of Russian vodka and zero-gravity partying. Woo Hoo!

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Pint

«I'm sorry, I can't do that Dave.»

Was that «Dave» as in David William Donald Cameron ?...

Henri

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Anonymous Coward

KHAN!!!!

PS. left the key inder the doormat in case we're out :)

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Anonymous Coward

KHAN'T!!!!

Fixed it for you.

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Anonymous Coward

trouble with the pod bay doors?

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to be fair

They've admitted their mistake and their software onboard said that something's wrong, phoned back and said so. That's reasonable.

Yes, we'd all like the software to be perfect, but it may not be. I'm glad the error checking worked though

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Pirate

Re: to be fair

That's not it at all. The ISS sent an SQL injection attack disguised as routine docking guidance info. Either to test the incoming craft's software, or so they could take remote control of it, and steal all the payload without paying.

Once they've got control of the craft, they can turn off the downlink, quickly nick all the goodies, then de-orbit it. Who'd know?

Every self respecting system has space pirates. Now we've got ours. Yarrr! Did this "docking" attempt take place on the 19th by any chance?

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Alien

Re: space pirates

Well the Russians are involved... who do you think ran the untraceable attack servers. Its just a variation of the Putin Superbowl ring gambit.

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Re: to be fair

Wrong, the gray aliens had the NSA send a SQL injection attack disguised as routine docking guidance info in order to steal more vodka for their mothership.

Regrettably, antivirus software caught the attack before it could cause a problem and the interruption caused the craft to go into a station keeping position in order to protect the precious vodka.

On Saturday, Operation Grey Goose will continue as previously planned.

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FAIL

BROWN ALERT, BROWN ALERT!!!!

Transporters and Warp Drive are still a little bit beyond our capabilities it seems...

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In the beginning, there was darkness. And the darkness was without form, and void...

Just send out Doolittle to have a word with Cygnus

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Re: In the beginning, there was darkness. And the darkness was without form, and void...

That close to Earth and you want Doolittle talking to a big bomb?

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Docking with the Harmony Module...

Do they use giant aerosol cans of hairspray for the manoeuvring thrusters?

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Alien

Following the UPS protocol

We attempted to deliver your items at 8:45 a.m. Sunday, September 23, 2013. The delivery attempt failed because nobody was present at the shipping address, so this notification has been automatically sent.

I bet the astronauts never even heard the doorbell ring.

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Thumb Up

Re: Following the UPS protocol

In space nobody can hear the doorbell ring.

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Alien

Re: Following the UPS protocol

... Your package has been taken to our local depot in Alpha Centauri, where it may be collected, in person, between the hours of 10:00 and 10:03 ...

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Re: Following the UPS protocol

No one can hear a doorbell in space...

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Re: Following the UPS protocol

POTD

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Coat

while engineers worked on fixing the problem

Just turn it off and back on again.

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IT Angle

Re: while engineers worked on fixing the problem

"Just turn it off and back on again."

What did you think the phrase "This is ground control, you are go to cycle power" meant?

Works more often than people might realize too.

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In space, nobody can hear you...

*clonk*

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Anonymous Coward

Seems to me that Cygnus is getting a lot less coverage than SpaceX? Or is that just me...

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Cygnus who?

Cygnus who?

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Maybe SpaceX have better PR? But also they managed to do it first. And they're using an all-new shiny system of their own, whereas aren't Cygnus using a bunch of off-the-shelf components? Not that I'm saying rocket surgery is easy or anything.

So you get more headlines out of SpaceX. What with aiming to get their system man-rated, talking about going to Mars, and sending CHEESE INTO SPAAAAAAAACE...

Also having a boss with a perfect Bond Villain name has to help. You know that at some point Elon Musk's going to buy a volcano, then US and Russian rockets will start disappearing, and it's underground monorails, private armies and self-destruct buttons all over again. I've seen that documentary on the History Channel, You Only Live Twice I think it was called.

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"Not that I'm saying rocket surgery is easy or anything."

Rocket surgery is incredibly easy.

Successful rocket surgery is hard.

See Apollo 13 for easy rocket surgery...

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baby steps guys, dont rush it

These kinds of things are bound to happen.

Different hardware from different manufacturers, working in different manners.

You can avoid a lot of problems by thinking and planning, but, as so perfectly demonstrated here, there is always the unexpected.

Before we boldly go where no man has gone before we first need to take baby steps.

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Bod

Manual docking

Just need to solve with a bit of hammering the keyboard up and down to line up, rotate, rotate, rotate, rotate... there she's goes. Docked.

Just don't fire the lasers at the station!

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Coat

...The company said that the craft had received data from the space station that it didn't expect. Cygnus rejected the data which, according to Orbital Sciences, "mandated an interruption of the approach sequence."

Let me guess: NASA uses Windows and Cygnus uses a Mac?

Or maybe NASA sent their messages via Xmodem, 8N1@9600, while Cygnus uses 7E1 @1200/75 ??

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Boffin

"Let me guess: NASA uses Windows"

In that case the ISS is still trying to locate a driver for the new device in the port.

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RDW

>In that case the ISS is still trying to locate a driver for the new device in the port.

Yes, cygwin1.dll is almost certainly missing.

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ISS sent Cygnus a message saying they had BSD'd, and had to reboot...

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"Or maybe NASA sent their messages via Xmodem, 8N1@9600, while Cygnus uses 7E1 @1200/75 ??"

Nothing as complex as that.

Cygnus uses zmodem and NASA uses kermit.

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ISS sent an NMI as ctrl-alt-delete.

Cygnus dutifully said, huh?!?!

And sat back waiting for the silliness to end.

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Data format error

The ISS still uses .doc files.

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10 days late

I hope they weren't sending anything perishable or urgent.

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Re: 10 days late

They were going to put the chicken straight in the freezer, but now it'll just have to go out for the council.

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Coat

Re: 10 days late

I think it was swan...

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We will call you Cygnus

The God of balance you shall be

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ISS: "Cygnus, you are 700 yards away."

Cygnus: "What's a yard?"

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Cygnus is in orbit around the earth...

...staying up there isn't a problem.

Admittedly it isn't -quite- out of the atmosphere, and the ISS itself needs to be pushed up now and again to stop it from, in due course, landing.

And there's probably things like batteries that aren't the rechargeable type...

I also assume that Cygnus is farther than a convenient space walk away from the ISS right now...

...while the Russian crew flight sneaks in in its place...

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Re: Cygnus is in orbit around the earth...

"...staying up there isn't a problem."

For a month or three. Then, it'll start getting a bit wonky in its orbit, falling behind in odd ways unless corrected.

Still, they usually maintain additional fuel for such contingencies.

...While the Russian crew steals the wodka and asks where it went when the docking finally occurs.

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"the craft had received data from the space station that it didn't expect"

The astronauts on the ISS had changed the docking music CD...

... and Cygnus got confused when it didn't hear the traditional Blue Danube.

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Alien

I hope...

... they didn't leave the engine running, otherwise some chav might take it for a joyride...

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Safety?

How much damage can come about from a docking cock-up? And how risky is it to have a floating cargo hulk sitting around while the next shipment of astronauts is trying to dock with the station in the meantime?

Just as well it knew to stop when it realised it didn't understand the incoming data transmission.

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Re: Safety?

When the Russians tried to operate the automatic Progress capsules without their expensive docking radars, they made a small hole in Mir, trying to dock it manually. Apparently they'd given the Cosmonaut who was docking it manually very little in the way of instruments.

In the confusion of trying to close the airtight doors to the module with the slow leak (the crew could hear the hiss of their breathing air escaping), they killed the power, lost the main computer, which lost the lock from the solar panels to the sun, which lost them power, which meant they had to operate on emergency power for ages, and it took a lot of work to get the station even vaguely working again. I don't think Mir ever fully recovered from that, and they nearly had to abandon Mir.

Had the thing hit a bit harder, and punctured the hull in a big way, then I guess some poor sod might end up going for an unscheduled spacewalk - minus suit. I'm sure there are parts of the ISS that can't be fixed if broken in that way, especially as we don't have shuttles any more.

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Re: Safety?

Bloody hell. Thanks for the tale - that's quite amazing. I'm surprised that hasn't made it into a movie...sounds like they were closer to the plot of Gravity than anyone else has been.

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Re: Safety?

Mir was old, and I think the extra modules weren't plumbed in all too well. I think it was the Spektr module that took the hit. The power and data cables were just clipped to the side of the airtight hatch, so you couldn't close it without removing them first. Not exactly going to pass a health and safety inspection, but then how the hell's the inspector going to get up there with his clipboard...

I saw a documentary on this, and it claimed that the British born definitely American astronaut Michael Foale panicked and started yanking out cables, whereas the Russians were trying to power down the main computer first (or possibly get it emergency power first), then unplug power and data, then re-start so that they didn't lose the solar panel lock on the sun. I'm pretty sure the lack of power had them on emergency oxygen generators at several points, before all was up-and-running again. Getting the panels aligned and main pooter all tickety-boo and reliably working, took several weeks, from memory.

On the other hand, that might be a Russian smoke-screen to cover the fact that they had a piss-poor and unsafe space station that nearly killed everyone on it. I'd have though airtight doors ought to really remain closed, or at least be able to automatically close in case of a major leak. After all, meteoroid damage is quite a likely incident, and if the hole is big enough, you need to have that compartment seal itself off from the rest of the station.

It probably didn't also help that everyone seems to have reverted to their native language under the stress of listening to their air leak out of the station, while the only airtight door that could save them couldn't be shut. I believe it takes a loooong time to put a spacesuit on, you can't just step into them - unless they have emergency (lightweight) ones kicking around in case of this sort of problem.

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Re: Safety?

Michael Foale's book, Dragonfly, about his time on Mir is quite an interesting read. While parts of it seem pretty defensive, his description of the docking incident and the fire (a separate incident) are quite harrowing.

His career came to a screeching halt after he revealed just how close, and how often, Mir came to disaster. Astronauts are supposed to just suck it up.

Anyway, a good read, although it has to be taken with a grain of salt, or at least balanced by the Russian side of things.

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