Last week saw the successful launch
of the Planetary Society's LightSail
spacecraft, the solar-powered satellite that runs Linux and was crowdfunded
on Kickstarter. The spacecraft worked flawlessly for two days, but then fell silent, and the engineering team has been working hard on a fix ever since. They've pinpointed the problem: a software glitch
. "Every 15 seconds, LightSail transmits a telemetry beacon packet. The software controlling the main system board writes corresponding information to a file called beacon.csv. If you're not familiar with CSV files, you can think of them as simplified spreadsheets—in fact, most can be opened with Microsoft Excel. As more beacons are transmitted, the file grows in size. When it reaches 32 megabytes—roughly the size of ten compressed music files—it can crash the flight system." Unfortunately, the only way to clear that CSV file is to reboot LightSail. It can be done remotely, but as anyone who deals with crashing computers understands, remote commands don't always work. The command has been sent a few dozen times already, but LightSail remains silent. The best hope may now be that the system spontaneously reboots on its own.