December 11, 2006

Perhaps They Should Have Tested More - NASA

Apparently the satellite control software was off by 45 degrees:
"Anybody that has ever taken algebra has gotten a problem wrong because you slipped a minus sign somewhere"
So NASA isn't able to get their Algebra right? That can't be a good sign.

December 11, 2006

Software glitch spoils inaugural launch from Va. spaceport

Associated Press Writer

ATLANTIC, Va. - The inaugural rocket launch from the mid-Atlantic region's commercial spaceport will be postponed until at least Thursday - and possibly until next month - while scientists try to fix a software glitch that forced Monday's scheduled takeoff to be scrubbed.

Teams still were troubleshooting a problem with the flight software for one of the two satellites to be carried by the Minotaur I rocket, so the earliest the launch could be rescheduled would be Thursday, said Keith Koehler, spokesman for NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, where the spaceport's launch pad is located.

"They're looking at the possibility of trying to make the corrections on the launch pad," Koehler said Monday afternoon. If that attempt fails, the satellite will have to be removed from the rocket to be worked on, and that would push the launch date into January, he said.

The original launch window ran through Dec. 20, with the NASA Wallops range closed during the last week of December for the holidays, Koehler said.

Earlier Monday, officials had said the launch would be postponed until at least Wednesday, and possibly for two to three weeks, because Air Force teams discovered an anomaly with the flight software for the TacSat-2 satellite while doing tests Sunday night.

The problem occured in software that controls the pointing of the satellite toward the sun so solar panels can charge batteries, said Neal Peck, TacSat-2 program manager. The software would have tilted the panels at a 45-degree angle instead of having them face directly into the sun, he said.

"So we would not be receiving sufficient power to the spacecraft to power all our systems and to conduct all our experiments," he said during a news conference at NASA Wallops two hours before the rocket was to have taken off at 7 a.m.

Asked what caused the problem, Peck said, "It's basically an error in the software."

"Anybody that has ever taken algebra has gotten a problem wrong because you slipped a minus sign somewhere," Peck said. "My guess is it was something along those lines."

The TacSat-2 satellite will test the military's ability to transmit images of enemy targets to battlefield commanders in minutes - a process that now can take hours or days. The Air Force envisions a system that would allow commanders to send questions directly to a satellite overhead and receive answers before the satellite passes back over the horizon.

Also aboard the rocket is the NASA's shoebox-size GeneSat-1 satellite, which carries a harmless strain of E. coli bacteria as part of an experiment to study the long-term effects of space on living organisms. The results could be useful for NASA's mission to Mars.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, or MARS, is one of only six federally licensed launch centers in the country. The Air Force will pay the spaceport $621,00 for the launch, spaceport director Billie Reed said Sunday.

Reed did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Monday.

The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, a state agency created in 1995, built the launch pad in 1998 on land leased from NASA on Wallops Island on Virginia's Eastern Shore peninsula. Maryland later joined the commercial venture.

Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles built the rocket with two stages made from decommissioned Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles and two stages from Pegasus rockets.

Updated: December 16, 2006

The 69-foot Minotaur I rocket soared from the launch pad at 7 a.m. ET, after teams spent the week resolving a glitch in software for one of the satellites that had scrubbed a liftoff on Monday.

The delay added "a couple hundred thousand dollars" to the $60 million price of the mission, Air Force Col. Scott McCraw, the mission director, said Friday. Included in the total is the cost of the rocket and the two satellites and $621,000 the Air Force will pay the spaceport.