Previous: Take a Ride on the Interplanetary Superhighway
Next: How We Accidentally Discovered Gamma-Ray Bursts



View count:469
Last sync:2018-10-19 19:10
It's been a tough week for space missions, from a failed Soyuz launch to two emergency shutdowns of space-based telescopes.

Hosted by: Hank Green

For special, curated artifacts of this universe, check out
Support SciShow by becoming a patron on Patreon:
Dooblydoo thanks go to the following Patreon supporters:
azarus G, Sam Lutfi, D.A. Noe, الخليفي سلطان, Piya Shedden, KatieMarie Magnone, Scott Satovsky Jr, Charles Southerland, Patrick D. Ashmore, charles george, Kevin Bealer, Chris Peters
Like SciShow? Want to help support us, and also get things to put on your walls, cover your torso and hold your liquids? Check out our awesome products over at DFTBA Records:
Looking for SciShow elsewhere on the internet?

[♪ INTRO].

Despite the fact that we’ve been sending humans into space consistently for over half a century, space travel remains super dangerous. I mean, you’re getting a ride from some very powerful and very controlled explosions.

And we were reminded of that danger last week, when a scheduled launch of the Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station had to be aborted mid-flight. Luckily, astronaut Nick Hague and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are safe and sound back on Earth. But now we have to figure out exactly what went wrong before anyone else can go, which threatens ISS operations.

While there have been some upgrades made over the years, the Russian Soyuz rocket family is virtually unchanged from the late 1960s; a small capsule sits atop a 50-meter-tall rocket. At its base, that rocket is surrounded by four booster rockets to give the entire mass the necessary oomph when it’s first taking off. And right now, it’s the only way we have of sending humans to space.

Two minutes after liftoff, those extra boosters are supposed to break off from the central rocket. But on October 11, it looks like something went wrong with that process. Instead of continuing their climb with the new push of the central engine, the astronauts cited feeling weightless.

They were suddenly in free fall. Shortly thereafter, the computer automatically triggered a launch abort. The crew capsule separated from the rocket and fell back to Earth, where it landed safely.

Albeit in the middle of nowhere, but they did find them. Now all crewed launches are on hold while Russia’s space agency. Roscosmos investigates exactly what went wrong.

But that is not good news for the three crew members currently living on the ISS. They were scheduled to return to the Earth in December, with a new team of three joining. Hague and Ovchinin on the station and continuing operations and experiments.

Now their missions will either have to be extended, or they’ll have to abandon the station in the Soyuz capsule currently docked. Even though the crew has plenty of provisions, the fuel in that lifepod is only cleared to last until January. If the order is made to abandon the ISS, it will be the first time since 2000 that we haven’t had a single person living there.

Now, it’s not like the ISS is gonna fall out of the sky if there are no people on it, but we won’t be able to do any maintenance. Already, the spacewalk Hague and Ovchinin had trained for, to replace the batteries on the station’s solar panels, was cancelled. For now, Roscosmos plans to try the launch again in the spring of 2019.

With an additional report coming out in the next few days, hopefully we will hear some good news. But unfortunately, this is not the only failure space missions have suffered this month. Less than a week before the failed Soyuz launch, NASA saw two of its space-based telescopes perform emergency shutdowns.

On October 5th, the Hubble Space Telescope suffered a mechanical failure, and only 5 days later, the Chandra X-ray Observatory got a bad data reading that interfered with its momentum sensor. Because they’re a bit too out of the way to send any technicians, all of our space-faring technology has programming that instructs them to enter a safe mode when they detect something wrong. They lock themselves into a safe position, including pointing their mirrors away from the Sun and their solar panels toward it, and switch over to backup hardware.

It happens more often than you might think. For example, the infrared Spitzer telescope automatically entered safe mode back in 2006, and the Dawn spacecraft has done it at least twice - once in 2011, and again in 2014. It’s just weird that two events happened so close to one another, and to a failed rocket launch.

In Hubble’s case, it comes down to the failure of one of its gyroscopes, which allows us to precisely orient the telescope. During the last crewed service mission in 2009, astronauts installed 6 new gyroscopes, but with the most recent breakdown, there are only three that still work. Hubble only runs on three at a time, though, and the gyroscopes are going to break down over time.

This most recent one was in its death throes for the past year. And if necessary, it is perfectly capable of running on just one. So this mechanical failure isn’t the end of the world; it’s not even the end of Hubble.

Unfortunately, when we tried to switch Hubble over to its final backup gyro, the craft kept reporting that it was rotating 100 times faster than it actually was. Strangely, it’s only the baseline rate that’s off. It is accurately reporting any changes in speed.

But it’s enough of a problem that we can’t use Hubble at the moment. Chandra also had a gyroscope problem, although it seems to have just been a temporary glitch. For three seconds, the gyroscope sent bad data that made the computer think it was moving faster than it was.

The telescope seems to be back to normal now, but mission scientists plan to keep an eye on that gyroscope for a while. These satellite failures are really just a sign of NASA’s ageing soldiers in the battle to study the universe. Chandra was launched in 1999, and Hubble in 1990.

Still, both telescopes are doing some amazing and great science up there, so here’s hoping we get at least a few more years out of them. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Space News! Guess what?

You are all invited to a livestream extravaganza! This Monday, October 22nd, we are having an eight-hour-long livestream, during which we will encourage people to join our Patreon, and we will maybe explode some pumpkins and do trivia and experiments, and have a spooky science hour, and lots of other fun things. Trust me, we have plans.

Shenanigans begin at 1pm Eastern, over on the main SciShow channel. Mark your calendars. We’ll see you there! [♪ OUTRO].