Best breaking news on a Sunday ...
... since I can't remember when
The Philae lander has woken from hibernation for the first time since its 60-hour, energy-draining mission on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last November, scientists at the European Space Agency confirmed today. Signals from the probe reached the ESA at its ops HQ in Darmstadt late last night. Philae, whose contact went …
Whenever I see space stories, I can't help but think that - so long as there's nothing else in the area - a big box filled with the cheapest set of wheeled-toy cameras all on slightly different frequencies with experiments bolted onto them en-masse would probably get more back than these multi-billion dollar missions with one thing.
I mean, just blanket-drop a ton of toy cars with cameras, drills, etc. over where the Mars Rovers were and let them loose. Let schoolkids control them (four-minute or whatever delay pending).
But then, I just *know* that what would break would be the thing that was supposed to drop them and never did, or the one box that can talk to them or whatever.
We need a mission that sods the accuracy and fancy calculations and just salvo-fires a ton of cheap experiment en-masse in the hope that just one works.
And if the Mars Rovers had been closer? Maybe one could have helped repair the other.
Yeah, cost is a huge issue, it costs a (scientifically speaking) metric shitload of money to put stuff in space, having a load of cheap stuff going up means weight, and weight means cost, so having one more expensive bit of kit which will most likely work (as long as you use metric and just metric, not metric and imperial) means you're not wasting a lot of cash getting stuff up.
Just getting an object into low earth orbit costs between $5-10k per kilo, according to the ESA, total mass of Rosetta was 3,000kg, at todays prices (lil bit more expensive 10 years ago) that works out at $30,000,000.
Of course, if you could invent a propulsion system that doesn't require burning off fuel in space, you could reduce that cost by over 1/2 (fuel for Rosetta was 1,670kg) and THEN you can send up a bunch of cheap shit which probably will refuse to even bother starting at -34C, let alone sit in space at temps that are a bit colder than "ahh bit chilly out there", knowing, in the back of your mind, it cost you $10k per kg of useless crap out sent up into space.
"The biggest cost in these missions is not the hardware. It's in the launch "
Not even remotely close. Launch costs are a small percentage of mission costs.
As are the _actual_ hardware costs (ie: the marginal cost of making the final production item which flies, plus its spare, which is normally used as a ground-based simulation rig once the launch goes off ok)
Most of the money goes in labour costs for designing and prototyping dozens-to-hundreds of test models which will never be flown and in most cases never even exposed to a vacuum chamber or vibration test rig.
These are necessary to make sure that the item which goes up, stays working, and doesn't fail in unexpected ways (but of course they still do for one-off missions as they're necessarily going to encounter unexpected conditions, such as ice so hard it broke the drill and it's hard to simulate what 3 years of power-off, deep-space cold-soak temperatures do to a thruster without investing billions into enough vaccuum chambers and chilling kit to keep the test items that cold for that long.)
Making a dozen flight articles would add a few percent onto the mission cost as the R&D cost is already sunk. Making and flying a dozen Beagles would have cost roughly double what 1 did. (The percentage hit on other missions is less, because Beagle was done extremely cheaply - so cheaply that it reused test components and that was probably what killed it (the most likely scenario is iced up airbags which didn't inflate properly or which split. They were watersoaked, patched and overweight when packed for flight)
The problem is that space missions are seriously strapped for cash. Space isn't sexy except for Geeks. At its peak spending, expenditure on NASA was less than the US public spent on outboard motors in any given year or pizza delivery charges. These days NASA's entire budget is less than Google spends lobbying the US congress (and Google is one of the smaller lobbyists) or what the US military spends operating airconditioned tents in the Middle East.
If there was more money available, organisations could afford to be less cautious. Getting things wrong in spaceflight results in budgets being cut, not boosted to make up the difference as funding is fixed and mostly based on "national prestige" or PR value.
As it is, 80-90% of proposed space missions deemed scientifically worthwhile never get past the funding proposal stage (which in turn leads to a lot of people scatter-gunning badly thought-out proposals in the blind hope of catching a crumb or two). Those that do get funded tend to pick up lots of "hitchhikers" en-route between mission core and launchpad as it's easier to propose add-ons than separate flights and some lose funding before launch for myriad reasons. There are plenty of completed spacecraft sitting around NASA/ESA/Russian warehouses which have been waiting 20+ years for a ride which will never come.
When you're in direct sun the temperature can be well over 100 degrees, as soon as you walk into the shade then it's almost absolute zero. Throw in the cosmic radiation on top and your cordless Black & Decker drill is going to have a hard time surviving.
There's a reason probes and satellites cost a few quid, they generally work in these extremes, and when they don't they usually enough redundancy and workarounds to enable them to carry on.
If you're going to go to the expense of building and fuelling a rocket to get your probe into space then you want to be reasonably sure that when it gets there it's going to work.
"We need a mission that sods the accuracy and fancy calculations and just salvo-fires a ton of cheap experiment en-masse in the hope that just one works."
A) Litter bug.
"And if the Mars Rovers had been closer? Maybe one could have helped repair the other."
B) So at the start of your comment you're advocating throwing primitive disposa-probes at Mars in the vague hope that something might stick, and by the end you were proposing that Mars Rovers be qualified mechanics for each other? Probably best leaving the science to the scientists; unlike you they landed Philae on a Comet with a margin of error less than a degree beyond the main asteroid belt.
That's pretty much what they did with Spirit and Opportunity.
Cheaper, faster, better. Two for the price of one, and boy, did they out perform expectations. a 90 day mission, and one of them is still going 11 years later! (The other managed 5 years of joy riding after completing it's mission, and another year as a stationary probe after that.)
There is a limit to how cheap you can go though. The toy cars you allude to would have been shaken to pieces during launch, electronics fried during transit, lacked the power to communicate with Earth (even if they still worked), stranded in the first rut they fell into, broken down by the UV radiation and scattered to the winds, and oxidised. By now, the most resilient parts would be just rusty stains on rusty rocks, if they were lucky enough to have been scattered onto the surface in the first place, and of course that would still have required a launch and landing system every bit as sophisticated and expensive as for the rovers.
Ofcourse, landing on a comet is a whole other magnitude of problem, if only because of the unimaginable distances involved. And to be fair, with Philae, they did manage this, and completed 90% of their plans in the first 2 days, including all of the highest priority stuff. Riding a boiling comet around the sun, live streaming (well, photo streaming, anyway), if possible, will be a mind boggling bonus. Let's hope they can establish regular comms' and get that data off, before it get's blown into orbit, devoured by a sink hole, or entombed in a super frozen snow drift.
This is beside the point, but I'm having a really hard time parsing this:
We have also received historical data – so far, however, the lander had not been able to contact us earlier.
The way I'm reading it, it almost gives the impression he expects it may be able to have contacted us earlier in the future... which surely can't be right. Best I can come up with is "According to the historical data we received so far, this was its first chance to contact us." Or something like that. Would that make any sense?
No. The lander was in fact awake before this, and it did some science. Unfortunately, Rosetta wasn't in place to receive it's data (and/or the comet's rotation means that Philae couldn't relay to Earth directly) so the data sat in the buffer, waiting to transmit.
This time around, the lander came online long enough to negotiate communications, but did not have time to empty it's buffer. We are hoping that future communications windows will occur, and will allow the lander to transmit it's data. After that, if there is power to spare, it will be assigned to do more science, again, in the hopes that we will have future communications windows for the data to be transmitted.
Some might say 'Unintended Consequences' but others will say, 'Science at its best.'
As the late, great Issac Asimov put it, 'The best moments in science aren't when someone shouts 'Eureka!', it's when someone frowns and says, 'That's funny...''
Call me optimistic, but I have a feeling that having a (mostly) charged up probot (I like that term!) on the surface of the comet when it swings by the sun, blasting out a tail, will end up giving us far more data than we'd have had if it had landed perfectly, gathered data from a mostly inert comet and burned out as planned.
Fingers crossed, everybody...
"[...] what's the point of saying how many of them are in the queue?"
A "data packet" could mean a complete observation sample of some sort. Therefore the individual size is irrelevant for the purpose of knowing they have a spread of samples over some time.
How long that data will take to transmit back to base is a different measurement question.
"Data packet" could mean one ethernet packet, or one megabyte, or one scan row, or one image, or collected observations for a period of one millisecond, or one minute.
In this case there's little point saying there are "over 8,000 data packets"; you may as well just say "some data packets". The number could be 5 million or it could be 2, without affecting the meaning.
I'd imagine that uneven cometary offgassing or impacts with small bodies might shake Philae loose from it's various resting places and have it bouncing around the comet a little.
Well, its good to hear from the little guy!
"Is anyone seriously looking at Arthur C. Clarkes space elevator ?" -- JimmyPage
Short answer: yes
It's not entirely Clake's idea, and actually dates in some form from late 19th Century. Kevlar, IS2R would be strong enough to build one on the moon, but not on earth -- but carbon nanotubes may eventually make it feasible.
"Short answer: yes"
Longer answer: We don't have the tech (yet) and even if we do, we don't have big enough launchers(*) yet to get the initial ball of string into orbit.
(*) Chemical launchers are unlikely to ever be large enough. An Orion nuclear launcher would work and a single successful launch could put all the necessary material in place to build the first one.
DLR project manager Dr Stephen Ulamec explained the probe's current status
I think it's fantastic that in this day and age we have a commuter railway that can convey a probot to a comet millions of miles away in space. Did Dr Ulamec also offer an explanation for the delays at Canary Wharf? Perhaps you should have got an explanation from somebody at Network Rail as well.
(It's the only reference to DLR in the article, and a Google search for those initials returns a page of results about the Docklands Light Railway.)
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