10 votes

Boeing's Starliner could have failed catastrophically during a December mission if a software error hadn't been found and fixed while the vehicle was in orbit

4 comments

  1. [3]
    ThatFanficGuy
    Link
    If I may ask a tangentially-related question... How does one update spacecraft software remotely? I mean, I'm assuming there's an uplink somehow available, but how exactly? Is it the satellite...

    If I may ask a tangentially-related question...

    How does one update spacecraft software remotely? I mean, I'm assuming there's an uplink somehow available, but how exactly? Is it the satellite connection?

    Also – and this is really why I'm asking this – can one update said software on a spacecraft during its re-entry?

    2 votes
    1. [2]
      blitz
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      The "fire" that we see around space vehicles re-entering the atmosphere is actually an ionized plasma. Plasma is highly conductive. This effectively forms a Faraday cage around the spacecraft....

      The "fire" that we see around space vehicles re-entering the atmosphere is actually an ionized plasma. Plasma is highly conductive. This effectively forms a Faraday cage around the spacecraft. It's impossible for electromagnetic signals to get into a Faraday cage, so it's impossible to communicate with a spacecraft during re-entry.

      Because of this, I expect that no, it's not possible to update a spacecraft during re-entry.

      In terms of generalized software updates, the actual mechanism varies by spacecraft, but it seems like your question is mostly about the logistics of getting data from the ground to the spacecraft. There are many networks used for communicating from the ground to spacecraft in low earth orbit, higher orbits, and in deep space:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Deep_Space_Network
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracking_and_data_relay_satellite
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near_Earth_Network

      For the Curiosity Rover on Mars, for example, the method of getting data to and from the rover can depend on the position of the earth in the sky relative to the rover. They frequently send data to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter first, and then that satellite can relay the data to the rover. Otherwise, if earth is visible in the sky from the rover's position, they can use the Deep Space Network to send data directly to it, at (I believe) much higher throughputs.

      6 votes
      1. ThatFanficGuy
        Link Parent
        What an excellent answer. Thank you!

        What an excellent answer. Thank you!

        2 votes
  2. blitz
    Link
    Well, if there was any doubt about who would get crew to the ISS first, I guess this pretty much settles it.

    The safety panel also recommended that NASA conduct "an even broader" assessment of Boeing's Systems Engineering and Integration processes. Only after these assessments, Hill said, should NASA determine whether the Starliner spacecraft will conduct a second, uncrewed flight test into orbit before astronauts fly on board. (Boeing recently set aside $410 million to pay for that contingency).

    Finally, before the meeting ended, the chair of the safety panel, Patricia Sanders, noted yet another ongoing evaluation of Boeing. "Given the potential for systemic issues at Boeing, I would also note that NASA has decided to proceed with an organizational safety assessment with Boeing as they previously conducted with SpaceX," she said.

    Well, if there was any doubt about who would get crew to the ISS first, I guess this pretty much settles it.

    1 vote