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Cubesat Launch Ends in Failure 122

Change writes "The CalPoly Cubesat group's launch yesterday has been a failure. It seems the first stage did not separate from the Dnepr rocket properly, and the vehicle crashed about 25km south of the launch site. More will be known when the debris is recovered and analyzed. A second launch is still in the works, but the loss of the 14 satellites from this launch is an unfortunate end to quite a lot of hard work of many engineering students."
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Cubesat Launch Ends in Failure

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  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Thursday July 27, 2006 @12:13PM (#15791757) Homepage Journal

    Thou Shalt Make Backups

    Failing Rule Number 1... [slobrews.com]

    there goes my chance to see if in space they really can hear you scream

  • "Cubesat" (Score:4, Funny)

    by HugePedlar ( 900427 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @12:16PM (#15791789) Homepage
    Well there's your problem - everyone knows cubes aren't aerodynamic.

    Sorry.
  • by Mikkeles ( 698461 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @12:16PM (#15791791)
    The failure occured because the Dnepr [dneprworld.com] is not a rocket.
  • by gasmonso ( 929871 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @12:18PM (#15791813) Homepage

    Makes you wonder how much of the aging Soviet and US nuclear missile arsenal actually works :) I have this picture of WWIII breaking out and both the US and Russia push the button only to be incinerated by their own missiles as they fall from the sky 20 yards from the launch site :)

    http://religiousfreaks.com/ [religiousfreaks.com]
    • Sounds like Mutually Assured Destruction to me. The system works!
    • by Guysmiley777 ( 880063 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @12:50PM (#15792087)
      Doesn't make me wonder. The Minuteman III and Polaris missiles have solid boosters with "end the world by" dates. Once a booster is expired, they either test fire it (sans warheads) or scrap it. The warheads can be reused on a fresh new booster.
      • Ack! Trident, not Polaris. Stupid brain.
      • "The Minuteman III and Polaris missiles have solid boosters with 'end the world by' dates."


        One of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "Well Mr. President, the way I see it we have two options. On one hand we can replace the boosters with new ones, but that is both dangerous and extremely expensive. On the other hand, we can start a nuclear war by August 17th when they expire."

      • The solid booster ones should be in reasonable shape, but the Dnjepr is based on the SS-18--a liquid propelled rocket. And yes, given the usual quality of Soviet manufacturing, I do wonder how many of the SS-18 would actually go boom. After all, since they probably only flight tested a few percent of the total production, anyone who took a few shortcuts on the assembly line was probalby reasonably safe. That's unlike satellite launching systems where pretty much every rocket ever assembled will be fired at
    • by jaxom_01 ( 720138 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @12:59PM (#15792153)
      I watched a show the other night which talked about how the US pulled 14 TITAN II missiles out of thier silos, relocated them to Vandenburg AirForce Base, removed the warhead and changed them over to carry a payload into space. 13 out of 14 were launched and 13 out of 13 were successful. The last TITAN II missile was kept as a static display at Vandenburg AFB. I think it all depends on what missiles are being re-used for payload launches. The TITAN II missiles were good for it because they were man-rated. They were designed from the beginning to be reliable enough to carry a man into space (Gemini missions) -Aaron
      • I watched a show the other night which talked about how the US pulled 14 TITAN II missiles out of thier silos, relocated them to Vandenburg AirForce Base, removed the warhead and changed them over to carry a payload into space. 13 out of 14 were launched and 13 out of 13 were successful. The last TITAN II missile was kept as a static display at Vandenburg AFB.

        That was done as a move to save money. In the end, the missiles required so much modification to transform them from ICBMs into launchers that it

    • Heinlein wrote about such a scenerio. It was mentioned in passing in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as "the wet firecracker war."
    • by dougman ( 908 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @01:35PM (#15792509)
      I'm assuming you're just kidding, at least about the US arsenal. This is something that is taken very seriously. Confidence in the performance of weapons [osd.mil] is managed through stockpile surveillance, assessment and certification, and refurbishment.

      Contrary to popular belief (and Hollywood movies) one doesn't just drop a nuclear warhead or "blow it up" and get a mushroom cloud. Thinking about these sorts of problems has been going on since at least 1960. Read up on the NIKE system [nikemissile.org] (no, not the shoes) for a bit of history on air defense guided missile systems.

      An exceprt on the guidance system:

      The computer command circuits initiate detonation of the warhead by sending a burst command to the missile by the way of the missile tracking radar system. Upon receipt of the burst command, the command detonation control circuits activate the warhead detonation devices. In a surface-to-surface mission, the burst command does not detonate the warhead. Instead, the burst command arms the barometric fuze, which detonates the warhead at preset altitude above the target, and disables the fail-safe circuits. The fail-safe control circuits operate if ground guidance ceases or if a malfunction occurs within the missile. Should either condition prevail for approximately 2 seconds, causing interruption of the hold-off pulses from the transmitting circuits, the fail-safe circuits cause automatic destruction of the missile.

      There are numerous layers of logic like this that are designed just for the issue you bring up. Clearly an ICBM should have enough smarts to know that it hasn't left reached it's target if it is only 20 yards from the launch site and the onboard altimiter never reached a height of over 200 feet.

      Take a look at those links. I think you'll find the history of these systems very interesting. Since some of the technology is rather old, it is somewhat easier to understand (think of modifying a transistor radio versus an iPod full of SMT parts).
      • I'm assuming you're just kidding, at least about the US arsenal. This is something that is taken very seriously. Confidence in the performance of weapons is managed through stockpile surveillance, assessment and certification, and refurbishment.

        The Navy even more so than the USAF. The Navy will actually call in a SSBN from patrol occasionally. The warheads on one or more missiles will be removed and replaced with ballast. (No other modification is made to the missile, and the only operational interfac

  • Oops (Score:2, Funny)

    I thought about joining that group when I was at Cal Poly, but then decided I was too lazy. Good thing, I saved myself some serious heartache!
    • I thought about joining that group when I was at Cal Poly, but then decided I was too lazy. Good thing, I saved myself some serious heartache!

      You tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is: never try. - Homer Simpson
    • They recruit from the CSC/CPE dept there a lot...not many volunteer. Some people even use CubeSat as their Senior Project. How disappointing to watch your senior project go up because of a(nother) French mistake. bastards.
  • by nacnud75 ( 963443 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @12:27PM (#15791888)
    There were 18 satellites on board not just the cube sats. BelKA-1 Baumanets UniSat-4 PICPOT and CubeSats: AeroCube-1 PolySat 1 PolySat 2 ICEcube-1 ICEcube-2 ION HAUSAT-1 KUTESat Merope Ncube-1 Rincon 1 Sacred SEEDS Voyager
    • Question: Is there an economic incentive to faking the loss of the satellites in the payload?
      More questions: Is the cost of the "lost" satellites enough to justify the loss of confidence in future launches and potential revenue that could be made from them?
      Yet another question: Is the crashing of rockets and the loss of entire payloads common?
  • Anyone know what the Russian launch failure rate is over the last 5 years?
    Its got to be pretty damned high.
    • Random comentary out of your ass i think?, and no, is lower than the american failure rate. (just to justify the trolling)
      • Sure.
        On a comment about a Russian launch faulure asking about the failure rate is random and trolling.

        There have been a number of launch failures on smaller projects (The planetary societies Solar Sail experiment for instance) over the last few years.

        I am open to the idea that its a mis-perception because we dont hear about success, but dont just bash me for trolling and then throw out an unsobsantiated statement to disprove my question.

        Point me to a source that has the numbers.
        • Uh, excuse me, but you did more than just ask a question. Your last line was: "Its got to be pretty damned high." That's why that dude jumped on you (rightfully).
          • Oh for crying out loud.

            from wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_troll [wikipedia.org]) "In Internet terminology, a troll is someone who comes into an established community such as an online discussion forum, and posts inflammatory, rude, repetitive or offensive messages designed intentionally to annoy and antagonize the existing members or disrupt the flow of discussion, including the personal attack of calling others trolls."

            Just because I make a statement that I expect the answer to my question to show a cer
        • http://www.planet4589.org/jsr.html [planet4589.org] though you'll have to count the launches yourself. And Russian rocket results are comparable to US and European results. Each group has people who know what they are doing and people who don't, or are new. The new guys fail pretty regularly early on, but if they can survive the business long enough they tend to do well. The incompetents, well, that's what safety organizations are for (see for example the rocket involved in the Solar Sail experiment, a converted Russian
    • Anyone know what the Russian launch failure rate is over the last 5 years? Its got to be pretty damned high.

      Overall the Russian failure rate is about the same percent the US (and the ESA for that matter) - roughly 2%.
  • by Sabaki ( 531686 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @12:47PM (#15792062)
    Timecube: above god
    Cubesat: below ground
    Spongebob's Pants: merely square
  • by pontifier ( 601767 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @12:53PM (#15792108) Homepage
    It seems like every time a rocket blows up or fails to launch the payload is lost. Why? It keeps happening, and the payloads keep being destroyed. Failsafes to prevent this need to be in place. I envision a payload pod with tripple redundant explosive release mechanisms, and capable of re-entering the atmosphere from orbit. I'd love to just once hear: "rocket blows up, payload recovered, re-launch expected after payload is tested and re-certified."
    • Why not just outfit the whole rocket with the magical "tripple redundant explosive relaese mechanisms" (spelling errors preserved for integrity) and then you wouldn't ever have to worry...
      • I'm not a computer, and exact regurgitation of data is not the area choose to excell in. If you can't understand what I'm saying because I spelled a word incorrectly, then you need to work on your magical thinking skills. words are a means of sharing ideas, and if the words transmit the idea then their job is done. So shut the fuck up unless you are going to talk about something usefull.

        Yes, decreasing worry would be the desired outcome of my suggestion.
        • I am a computer, and exact regurgitation of data is the area I choose to excel in. If you can't understand a joke when you see it, you need to work on your magical sense of humor. jokes are a means of sharing humor, and if the words transmit the joke then their job is done. So lighten up Francis, until you get a sense of humor... Yes, increasing the amount of levity would be the desired outcome of my suggestion.
        • > So shut the fuck up unless you are going to talk about something usefull.

          Why not set the good example? And BTW, you spelled "usefull" wrong. (Are your eyes working today?)
    • I envision a payload pod with tripple redundant explosive release mechanisms, and capable of re-entering the atmosphere from orbit.

      I am not a rocket scientist, but I imagine if you were to implement your vision, I think the rocket would be too heavy.

    • I'm sure that could be done, but it would probably add too much weight.

      Weight which people who use 2nd hand ICBMs as launch veichles can't afford.
    • especially with human payloads....
    • Such a subsystem would be a custom design for each payload (engineering design man-hours). It would also have to be able to anticipate or react to any of the hundreds of failure modes of a launch vehicle -- solid booster failure, liquid engine failure in any stage, stage separation failure, guidance system anomalies, guidance computer crashes, gyro alignment errors, and more, requiring exhaustive telemetry of the launch vehicle. It would add a significant weight penalty to every launch (forcing many paylo
    • by cyclone96 ( 129449 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @01:14PM (#15792305)
      This has been looked at a few times...but the only launchers that currently have payload recovery capability are manned ones (for obvious reasons).

      In general, while losing a payload sucks, it doesn't justify the weight and monetary cost of a payload recovery system and the infrastructure required to go get said payload wherever it lands. The satellite itself would end up needing to be a much more robust design to survive the dynamic environment of an ascent abort.

      It's all a numbers game - with the worldwide launch success rate around 97%-98%, it's simpler/cheaper simply to buy the insurance or eat the loss.

      Many of these less proven launch systems (such as Dnepr, Falcon) have given very inexpensive rides to orbit to help establish a track record while they work out development issues. The track record is important, because an established launch record helps lower the insurance premium, which is a very large fraction of launch costs to commercial customers. That's why you see a lot of student projects (which are done on the cheap, and usually are uninsured) blowing up.
      • Thank you. I had wondered about the costs of a launch. I had no idea insurance was a major cost, but it makes sense. I'm glad the success rate is so high, I guess failures get more attention than sucesses.
      • it's simpler/cheaper simply to buy the insurance or eat the loss.

        I was under the impression that no one was willing to insure payloads because the risk was too high.

        • I was under the impression that no one was willing to insure payloads because the risk was too high.


          It's all about the numbers. If the premium is high enough, you will find underwriters. The more risk, the more the premium. In the satellite business, the premium for insuring the launch, successful activation, and on-orbit lifetime can be a big portion of the overall budget. For a very expensive commercial satellite (think the billion+ Boeing 701s, like the XM satellites and DirecTV), it can be over 100
    • It seems like every time a rocket blows up or fails to launch the payload is lost. Why? It keeps happening, and the payloads keep being destroyed. Failsafes to prevent this need to be in place. I envision a payload pod with tripple redundant explosive release mechanisms, and capable of re-entering the atmosphere from orbit. I'd love to just once hear: "rocket blows up, payload recovered, re-launch expected after payload is tested and re-certified."

      There's only so much redundancy that's feasible when you

    • It's too expensive.

      Cheaper to just build cheap rockets and expect a certain number to fail.

      Failure rate will never be zero, it will only get smaller.
      At some point it isn't worth it to pay for the next level in reliability.
    • I believe an insurance policy would be much cheaper. It's not like they sent the blueprints for the satellites in the rocket too..
    • t seems like every time a rocket blows up or fails to launch the payload is lost. Why? It keeps happening, and the payloads keep being destroyed. Failsafes to prevent this need to be in place. I envision a payload pod with tripple redundant explosive release mechanisms, and capable of re-entering the atmosphere from orbit. I'd love to just once hear: "rocket blows up, payload recovered, re-launch expected after payload is tested and re-certified."

      It comes down to cost. The mass fraction these small rocket

    • Except for the 'rocket blows up' part, it has happened. Twice.

      In 1984, two communications satellites that had been left in low parking orbits after booster failures were recovered during a Space Shuttle mission (STS-51A). [spacenet.on.ca] However, after the Challenger accident the Space Shuttle was permanently taken out of the commerical satellite launch and recovery business for fairly obvious reasons. The reason you don't hear about payloads recovered from the failure of single use launchers is that it would cost far m
    • Why not? For the same reason jet engines aren't designed to withstand a blade-shattering turbine failure. Ever see pictures of a jet turbine that shatters a blade while powered up? Looks like 4-year when crazy with some scisors and construction paper. In both cases the forces involved are so insane that proper protection would prevent the vehicle from operating. We can either make the object safe or you can make it useful. At this point we can't do both.

      The only reasonable options are first try really hard
  • Rocket failure is part of launching satellites, losing all their hard work for something stupid is something that happens a lot in the space industry. They should be glad that they aren't out 20 million dollars for a real satellite, which is part of the job.
    • Rocket failure is part of launching satellites, losing all their hard work for something stupid is something that happens a lot in the space

      But losing 18 satellites is insane.They should have tried it with fewer satellites.

  • by 955301 ( 209856 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @01:14PM (#15792306) Journal
    Clearly this was a software problem.
  • Could we have this stuff in a format non-windows-users can view?

    OK, I'm just whining.
    • The format was chosen by the Launch Provider; the video was saved from their stream, and I was in a hurry to put it up and didn't have a copy of Premier on hand to do transcoding. FWIW, plays fine for me in mplayer. :)
  • Am I the only one that thinks launching small satalites in space makes the inevitable task of cleaning up "space junk" much harder? I mean, in low enough orbit the decay rate is great and it's not a problem, but once these things start going geosynchronous, this could be an issue.

    Disclaimer: I really want my own cubesat.
    • I want my own satellite too... even if it only projects porn onto clouds from the heavens /shrug.
      It does seem a lil sloppy to pack a rocket with soon to be spacejunk. Whatever happened to making a volcano for Science Fair?
    • It is already a problem. Depending on who you talk to, there are something like 10000 objects in orbit already. (I guess it depends on what size thing you're worried about)

      I guess finding "launch windows" is less and less about orbital mechanics and more like merging onto a freeway at rush hour.

    • There are more ways to remove the satellites from orbit than to wait for their orbit to degrade. I can't speak for other small satellite developers, but our (non-CubeSat) LEO mission has a designed end-of-life mode which will deorbit it after our mission is completed. However, I have heard that not all design teams choose to do this as it does require a little more effort to add that.
    • I worked on one of these projects when it was just getting started 5 years ago, and this was one of the problems we had to look in to. The CubeSats were destined for Low Earth Orbit (~300 km was our design case), and would deorbit due to aerodynamic drag in a month or two.
  • If only they hadn't had to turn to old modified Russian missiles to get their projects up. If only the US government would subsidize rockets and missiles for civilian scientific research rather than every possible military purpose, they wouldn't have had to.
  • The moment I read the post this picture came to my mind:
    http://www.nickscipio.com/funstuff/archive1/images /needatruck.jpg [nickscipio.com]
  • by Born2bwire ( 977760 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @05:59PM (#15795018)
    Well, they took the UIUC sat down with them. Those guys are just down the hall from me. Maybe I should leave them a fruit basket or something. Still, that's the best excuse I could imagine why you would not have your final data for your thesis. "After years of research, design, and testing, our experiment was posed to finally give us data when it blew up. It was the Russian's fault."

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro..." -- Hunter S. Thompson

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