back to article SpaceX touches down in California as Voyager 2 spies interstellar space

SpaceX were cock-a-hoop this morning as the company landed its first booster at California's Vandenburg Air Force Base. NASA merely coughed politely and pointed toward its Voyager 2 probe, which looks to be about to enter interstellar space. SpaceX SAOCOM success SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster left its launchpad at Space Launch …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don’t call us plucky

    We don’t know what it means

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: Don’t call us plucky

      It means you're played with fingers instead of a bow.

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Don’t call us plucky

        Don't be cellist

        1. Crisp Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Don’t call us plucky

          Another comment thread descending into violins...

          1. m0rt Silver badge

            Re: Don’t call us plucky

            Surely this was orchestrated violins?

            You can't conduct this any other way.

          2. Korev Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: Don’t call us plucky

            Another comment thread descending into violins...

            Not to mention the gratuitous sax....

            1. quxinot

              Re: Don’t call us plucky

              Stop that.

              There's plenty of sax and violins on the web already.

              1. onefang Silver badge

                Re: Don’t call us plucky

                I'm tone deaf to your puns.

        2. RegGuy1
          Facepalm

          Don't be cellist

          What a bassoon!

          1. imanidiot Silver badge

            Re: Don't be cellist

            Thats a fagott.

  2. Aladdin Sane Silver badge
    Pint

    Always this------>

  3. Christopher Reeve's Horse

    Lack of Astonish!

    It's not vaguely astonishing, it really is astonishing!

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: Lack of Astonish!

      Over 10 BEEELION miles from home, and still working. Now, if we can just build cars to have the same MTBF

      1. Persona

        Re: Lack of Astonish!

        "MTBF"

        at 895 million dollars for the pair even if you could build cars with that sort of MTBF there wouldn't be many takers.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lack of Astonish!

        You don't want cars built that way. In the last century, car safety has noticeably improved every year, accumulating huge gains. If cars were made to last a lifetime, there would be too many old, unsafe cars on the streets, driving up the injury rates a lot.

        Once cars have been perfected is the time to talk of durability.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Lack of Astonish!

          "You don't want cars built that way. In the last century, car safety has noticeably improved every year, accumulating huge gains. If cars were made to last a lifetime, there would be too many old, unsafe cars on the streets, driving up the injury rates a lot."

          All this is getting severely off the point and so on, and that's a perfectly valid point, but here's another angle:

          The thing about the Voyager spacecraft is that they were engineered to do a particular job. The engineering was done appropriately, which is how come they are still just about working - albeit with some bits breaking and them generally being on their last legs what with the power supplies fading away. If I'd been involved in designing or building those craft, I'd be extremely proud of my work.

          "Appropriate engineering" is exactly what's needed for cars, just as with the Voyager spacecraft - it's just what's appropriate for cars is not the same as for interplanetary space probes intended to run for decades.

          Alternatively, you could take the view that the Voyager spacecraft were engineered with absolutely the best that could be done at the time, taking all things fully into account. If cars had been engineered like that in the 1970s, we'd've had cars operating with very nearly current safety levels 50 years ago (crumple zones, airbags, and anti-lock brakes were all "things" back in the 1970s; electronic stability control could have been by the end of the decade at least [yes it would have been bulky and expensive and power hungry and probably high-maintenance], and pre-tensioner seatbelts); and they'd be highly recyclable/reusable too - best possible engineering, remember - thus having a significant trade-in value, so replacing them when they got tatty and the new model had better fuel economy/comfort/whatnot would be more attractive than you might otherwise think. Also, there'd've been far less pollution if only because hardly anyone would have been able to afford the things...

        2. jake Silver badge

          Re: Lack of Astonish!

          "car safety has noticeably improved every year"

          And the fun of owning and operating them has diminished. Modern cars are boring.

        3. hplasm Silver badge
          Unhappy

          Re: Lack of Astonish!

          "car safety has noticeably improved every year"

          To make up for the fall in driving skill/attention/giveashitability.

      3. Apprentice of Tokenism
        FAIL

        Re: Lack of Astonish!

        I wish we would build other software with so few bugs that runs that long.

        1. Steve Cooper

          Re: Lack of Astonish!

          The software has had regular updates since launch - I believe at least one major upgrade (in 1990) to make it more autonomous has taken place. It's also a small amount of code (64KB RAM I think on them, with a tape drive for storage!) so when picked apart by a team at NASA you'd hope all bugs are caught early in development.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Lack of Astonish!

            "64KB RAM I think on them,"

            Computer Command System, 4096 18-bit words; Attitude and Articulation Control System, 4096 18-bit words; Flight Data System, 8198 `16-bit words (there are two of each of the three computers, not necessarily for redundancy).

            "with a tape drive for storage!"

            Two digital 8-tracks, 1280 megabits, primarily used to buffer acquired data before the long, slow transmission back to Earth. Also not necessarily redundant.

        2. Caver_Dave

          Re: Lack of Astonish!

          I believe that the commercial operating system VxWorks has a planet wide monopoly on Mars and surrounding it.

          Software can be written properly, it's just that most script kiddies don't know how to do it and most finance departments won't pay for it.

      4. ghp

        Re: Lack of Astonish!

        Do you think we're incapable? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_obsolescence

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Lack of Astonish!

          Planned obsolescence isn't really a thing most of the time. Or at the very least not a conscious choice by the manufacturer. It's simply driven by cost. Cheaper stuff sells better, even if it lasts shorter. So margins go down, your competitor is undercutting you on price and you are losing sales. Do you A: Keep doing what you are doing and hope the average Joe looking for your products realises and cares your product lasts longer or B: Cut a few corners, shave a few dollars of the production cost and undercut or pricematch your competitor?

          I can tell you manufacturers will go for B, because A doesn't make sense. People are stupid idiots, and that appreciation for quality and lifetime is often not important.

          Cars are engineered to last roughly 3 to 4 years before requiring major maintenance. Because that's how long the average buyer keeps the car before buying another anyway. Second owners can either get bent or are profitable to dealerships in maintenance fees and spare parts sales (Plus, you've already sold the car to the first guy, so you don't care).

          Yes they can make cars that'll last dozens of years without problem. It would be very expensive, probably rather heavy and still require regular upkeep to stay reliable. Meanwhile people are buying that new Volkswagen Passat or BMW 3 series because its cheaper to own over the 4 years they'll have it in their possession.

          1. LucreLout Silver badge

            Re: Lack of Astonish!

            Meanwhile people are buying that new Volkswagen Passat or BMW 3 series because its cheaper to own over the 4 years they'll have it in their possession.

            I can't see how that can be possible.

            A 4 year old 3 series will have lost more than half its value. Unless it then goes on to need a new, well, almost everything, it isn't going to cost as much as the depreciation cost the first owner.

            An entry level cooking variety 3 series costs a few pounds under 28k. Auto trader has them going from 8k in 2014 spec. That's a 20k loss in depreciation. There's no way on Earth that it'll cost more than that in repairs over the next 4 years; it won't cost more than a couple of grand unless you buy a thrashed & badly maintained car.

            1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge
              Pint

              Re: Lack of Astonish!

              You could buy a 4 year old car, buy a spare 4 year old car and have £4k to spend on important things like beer.

              I have no earthly idea why any (not-rich) person would buy a brand new car and pay the VAT and massive depreciation.

              1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

                Re: Lack of Astonish!

                I have no earthly idea why any (not-rich) person would buy a brand new car and pay the VAT and massive depreciation.

                I think it depends on the car. Expensive flash things it doesn't make sense. My nearly-30-year-old Porsche 944 cost me £2500, and a few grand since then on maintenance.

                But for the everyday car, it's often a good deal to buy a fairly basic thing (Skoda Fabia?) for new for maybe £10K (and the dealers offer some good cash deals!) and then drive it carefully for the next 10-15 years. Depreciation under £1K per year. Or buy a low-mileage one that's 4 years old for £6K, so again costing about £1K per year.

                And buying from new you know who has sat in those seats!

                1. DanceMan

                  Re: Lack of Astonish!

                  @ Pen-y-gors

                  My 944's were daily drivers. Didn't need an everyday driver. They could also carry more than any sedan, except more than one passenger.

  4. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    No more planets?

    "frankly, there is little point in keeping cameras that were designed to look at planets activated when there are no more planets to look at."

    But, but...there could be a Death Star lurking out there, just waiting for us to relax our vigilance!

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: No more planets?

      Promises, promises.

    2. Korev Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: No more planets?

      But, but...there could be a Death Star lurking out there, just waiting for us to relax our vigilance!

      Quite, look what happened to Alderaan...

      1. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: No more planets?

        The ability to destroy a planet SpaceX-press-release is insignificant next to the power of the Force a 41 year old RTG.

      2. imanidiot Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: No more planets?

        Rebel propaganda. Alderaan never existed in the first place!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No more planets?

          > "Alderaan never existed in the first place!"

          And anyway, they had it coming.

        2. hplasm Silver badge
          Big Brother

          Re: No more planets?

          "Rebel propaganda. Alderaan never existed in the first place!"

          Alderaan ? A planet? Nah- like the Rebellion, it has always just been a loose aggregation of sharp-edged fragments!

      3. nasos007

        Re: No more planets?

        Alderaan? Surely you mean Druidia.

        http://spaceballs.wikia.com/wiki/Planet_Druidia

    3. LDS Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: No more planets?

      Maybe they just passed by Planet X and the camera was off...

      (Big Brother never turns the cameras off)

      Anyway, just counting particles gives you interesting science...

    4. onefang Silver badge

      Re: No more planets?

      "But, but...there could be a Death Star lurking out there,"

      That's not a planet, it's not even a moon.

  5. LeoP

    Isn't it amazing

    how much the abilities of NASA, indeed our abilities as mankind to think in long-term projects, build long-lasting stuff, make very much from very basic ingredients have deteriorated, and how much our expectations have kept pace on this downward spiral.

    I do hope, that the speed of this change doesn't increase any more - lest I am still alive, when it hits the fan.

    1. annodomini2

      Re: Isn't it amazing

      You think it hasn't already?

  6. frank ly Silver badge

    17.7 billion kilometres from Earth

    Or, about 118 AU while Pluto never gets more than 49 AU away (from the Sun).

    However, The Goblin goes out to 2000 AU so where does our solar system end? Does The Goblin go out into 'interstellar space' before coming back again in its orbit?

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: 17.7 billion kilometres from Earth

      "Does The Goblin go out into 'interstellar space' before coming back again in its orbit?"

      I presume so. I think interstellar space is defined as "where the Sun ceases to be the dominant influence on the local environment". In practice, that means when the solar wind drops below the local speed of sound (that's "sound" including magnetic waves), because nothing (*) outside that bubble can propogate inside (upstream). Put another way, inside the solar system the only thing you can hear is the Sun.

      (* Well, nothing that is except light, cosmic rays and lumps of rock. I suppose that's not exactly nothing, but very little stops those things if they are minded to travel in your direction!)

    2. mr.K

      Re: 17.7 billion kilometres from Earth

      There are no clear definition on what the boundaries of the solar system are. The one they use here is where the galactic wind overcomes the solar wind. Another would be the farthest out planet. A more common one would be where the gravitational pull of the sun is no longer dominant. This will be much much farther out.

      In a galaxy, as we are, it would be usefully to think that the boundary is the border to next solar system and thus you would use gravitational border. But if you have some rouge object skipping through the galaxy it will never be outside of a solar system, but can you say that this object really have visited us if it pass us a light years distance? Also, will an intergalactic system (if there is such a thing) then have no boundary?

      But if you use the "solar wind" boundary does that mean that comets and such regularly leave the solar system before returning?

      It is simple, use the one that gives the best headlines.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: 17.7 billion kilometres from Earth

        "But if you have some rouge object skipping through the galaxy"

        Jeweler's or cosmetic? Or are you referring to colo(u)r?

      2. onefang Silver badge

        Re: 17.7 billion kilometres from Earth

        Don't forget that Voyager 1 "left the solar system" a few times. Even the boffins aren't sure.

        1. FrogsAndChips Bronze badge

          Re: Even the boffins aren't sure.

          Fortunately, someone has been keeping count:

          https://www.xkcd.com/1189

      3. Geekpride

        Re: 17.7 billion kilometres from Earth

        "some rouge object skipping through the galaxy" - must be Red Dwarf.

  7. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Have you noticed that every time NASA's budget is up for review, one or other Voyager enters a new definition of interstellar space?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      That's just because NASA's budget is regularly reviewed. And we didn't know where the boundary of interstellar space was until Voyager 1 reached it. Which is why we were uncertain as to when it had happened. That's science...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Some people really are interested in our fancy remote control gadget, that happens to be about to cross the heliopause, sampling a second, vital scientific data point on this previously theoretical zone of solar space.

      So please stop giving poor old NASA grief over it. They don't get much right, but the Voyagers are very sweet spacecraft. If I could claim credit for them I'd never shut up!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "They don't get much right,"???

        Umm... Actually, the amazing thing about NASA is how little it gets wrong. Oh yes there are all sorts of things wrong with the US space programme and how it's managed, but if you look into it, most of that it caused by politicians: e.g., insisting on NASA money being spent in *their* states, and routinely (i.e., every new president in recent times) changing what NASA's supposed to be doing.

        The thing about the famous big cock-ups under the NASA banner is that most people who have been interested in space for a few decades can actually list them.

        Think about it: there's Apollo 1 and two Space Shuttle disasters in the crewed space programme as the only three times NASA programmes have killed astronauts. Given the risks involved, that's pretty impressive. Admittedly, when you find out the details of those three horrible events and just how straightforwardly avoidable they all were, it seems a good deal less impressive - but still, the actual number of fatal accidents is low, given the risky nature of the business. I mean, think about Apollo 13: despite it all, the crew got back to Earth alive. That's a combination of the crew (and ground support staff) all having "the right stuff", and pretty much all the engineering being first-rate.

        High profile uncrewed NASA spacecraft cock-ups? Mars Climate Orbiter and Hubble are the two most famous ones partly due to the avoidable nature of the failures - and Hubble was sorted out to a large extent. But NASA's tried to put four rovers on Mars to explore the planet. Every attempt succeeded and they have all exceeded their planned operational life. Both Viking landers got to Mars and worked fine too.

        Oh yes, I'm sure the US space programme could be operated better, certainly more cheaply given the high price charged by the usual suspects for launchers (which is being dealt with right now by SpaceX and others), but NASA really does do rather excellent engineering almost all the time.

  8. dnicholas Bronze badge

    Do not go gentle into that good night,

    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

    Because their words had forked no lightning they

    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    And you, my father, there on the sad height,

    Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    1. Bear
      Happy

      A dose of Dylan Thomas first thing in the morning without the day's first dram is a very dangerous thing. Good thing that a triple espresso is available.

  9. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Pint

    Need two icons at once...<sigh> Toasts to SpaceX for the launch and recovery and also to NASA. It may seem commonplace but it's still some pretty damn impressive achievements going on with both of them.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      Not all that impressive. I mean, it's not as if it's rocket science...

  10. ivan5

    Isn't it abour now that the aliens return the space probes to NASA with a stern warning about littering up space ;)

  11. cosymart
    Happy

    What I want To know:

    When NASA flicks the off switch on Earth for an instrument on Voyager 2 how long is it before they get the signal back that says "Bollocks to that"?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: What I want To know:

      For Voyager 1 it's not quite a 40 hour round trip. For Voyager 2 it's not quite 33 hours. Both climbing, obviously. Link.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. Walter Bishop Silver badge

    Link to video of launch

    SAOCOM 1A Mission 31:58

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RTLS

    The SpaceX landings are amazing enough, but the fact that they're landing at the launch site (versus a continent or so away) is the really astounding part. That maneuver sounds a lot like the shuttle's RTLS abort mode (although the shuttle would have more "parts" to ditch and then would have glided to a landing).

    The El Reg article from a few days back had a quote describing RTLS as "continuous miracles interspersed with acts of God to be successful".

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: RTLS

      The maneuver is very little like the shuttles RTLS abort. In that, they stop boosting up to orbit at a random and unplanned point and jettison the rocket boosters and fuel tank, then turn the shuttle into a glider and then loop around and land on a runway.

      The SpaceX rockets were designed to land afterwards, and even then you'll note that the first quite a few attempts didn't exactly go according to plan and required several design changes.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9FzWPObsWA

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: RTLS

        @Peter, not quite. In a RTLS they had to burn the SRBs to completion in the normal ascent path, the boosters would then be ditched and the main tank stayed attached. The shuttle then boosted up and slowly did a sort of half loop while burning to kill the speed and raise the apogee sufficiently. Only once sufficient velocity back towards the Cape had been achieve would the main tank be ditched and the shuttle would glide from that point on.

        (See this video by Scott Manly for instance: https://youtu.be/Iwn3kk-q1YU, sort of showing the maneuver in Orbiter)

        The main thing with SpaceXs Falcon is that a RTLS isn't an abort mode and the stage has burned most of it's fuel and most of the mass it was carrying. Which means compared to the ascent a little fuel goes a long way. For the STS RTLS abort the shuttle was still carrying a lot of fuel in the external fuel tank, OMS and RCS systems which it needed to ditch to be able to land, hence the long drawn out back-flip to burn off fuel (All the while also firing the OMS and RCS systems continually).

        1. imanidiot Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: RTLS

          I should have said "burned most of it's fuel and DITCHED most of the mass it was carrying". Burning the payload that mass isn't really a good way to get stuff to space.

  14. wolfetone Silver badge

    I'm starting to think American achievement peaked with the launch of Voyager's 1 and 2.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Presumably you're not using ...

      ... a computer to connect to TehIntraWebTubes via TCP/IP, then?

      1. wolfetone Silver badge

        Re: Presumably you're not using ...

        I didn't know CERN was in America?

        1. FrogsAndChips Bronze badge

          Re: Presumably you're not using ...

          I didn't know CERN had invented TCP/IP?

        2. Is It Me

          Re: Presumably you're not using ...

          As I understand it TCP/IP was an American invention (by or for DARPA), but HTTP (or the World Wide Web) was invented at CERN by Tim Berners Lee.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Presumably you're not using ...

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARPANET

            The kernel of the Internet started as a US Department of Defense project. The DoD was worried about internal communications during a nuclear attack on the US, and they wanted a distributed system that would be able to work around damaged areas of the network. Thus the first packet switching nodes were built and lo, it was Good.

            The WWW part is merely HTML, which did have one vital new feature over previous markup languages: The >hyperlink<. Anyone with a mouse could easily operate them! So easily in fact, that the great unwashed masses soon occupied most of the space, alas.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Presumably you're not using ...

              "The kernel of the Internet started as a US Department of Defense project. The DoD was worried about internal communications during a nuclear attack on the US, and they wanted a distributed system that would be able to work around damaged areas of the network."

              Incorrect. In The Beginning, the first two nodes of what became TehIntraWebTubes were at SRI and UCLA, conceived, designed, implemented and run by students and professors. With no Pentagon oversight, input or anything else "intellectual". Money, yes. Oversight, no.

              The "designed to survive nukes" is oft repeated, but completely untrue. ARPANET was just a research network designed to research networking. The "nuke" myth came about much later than I started mucking about with it. How long ago was that? Well, there were fewer than two dozen nodes on it. The term "internetworking" had not yet been coined. Cerf & co were probably a year or so away from contemplating the project which eventually became TCP/IP.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who made the Gyros?

    And why didn't they get the same people to make them for the many subsequent missions that ended due to gyro malfunctions.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Who made the Gyros?

      The current crop of failed gyros turn out to be because of their spacecraft being subjected to intense solar winds. The voyager crafts are so far out that they aren't subjected to the same charging effects that led to the demise of the failed gyros. They are also subjected to far less loading for similar reasons, so aren't subjected to the same kind of forces. I doubt Voyagers gyros would have lasted the same amount of time if they'd stayed at around 1 AU.

  16. Colin Wilson 2
    Headmaster

    Nominally ??

    "the Falcon 9 performed nominally"

    This always slightly irritates me. Why do these Space types always say 'nominally' when they mean 'as intended' or even 'normally''?

    Nominally: adverb

    1. by or as regards name; in name; ostensibly:

    "He was nominally the leader, but others actually ran the organization."

    1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      Re: Nominally ??

      Nominally : word (American)

      1. means what the hell the Americans want it to mean at the time as they are reinventing the language.

      "The Americans speak a nominal English nominally, unlike the rest of the world that does it properly."

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Nominally ??

        "The Americans speak a nominal English nominally, unlike the rest of the world which does it properly."

        FTFY

        (signed) A. Yank

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