Software glitch disables LightSail spacecraft

by
in space on (#A388)
story imageAfter two days sending data back to Earth, a suspected software glitch in the LightSail spacecraft's Linux-based flight software has silenced the craft. Every 15 seconds, LightSail transmits a telemetry beacon packet. The software writes corresponding information to a file called beacon.csv. When it reaches 32 megabytes it can crash the flight system. The manufacturer corrected this glitch in later software revisions, but LightSail’s software version doesn’t include the update. A fix was scheduled to be uploaded, but before that happened, LightSail fell silent.

A reboot should clear the contents of the problematic beacon.csv file, giving the team a couple days to implement a fix. But the outcome of the freeze is “non-deterministic.” Sometimes the processor will still accept a reboot command; other times, it won’t. Multiple reboot commands were sent to the spacecraft. Nothing has happened yet. Therefore, we have to assume that LightSail is only going to respond to someone pushing the power button. Spacecraft, however, are susceptible to charged particles zipping through deep space. If one of these particles strikes an electronics component in just the right way, it can cause a reboot. This is not an uncommon occurrence. Cal Poly’s experience with CubeSats suggest most experience a reboot in the first three weeks. LightSail is capable of remaining in orbit about six months.

The three finger salute (Score: 2, Insightful)

by zafiro17@pipedot.org on 2015-06-01 12:20 (#A62N)

Sad story, and a neat project. I can only assume the engineers are frantically trying to figure how they can remotely do a Ctl-Alt-Delete.

I pity them, but I also fault them. Easy to armchair code, but it seems to me if you're building this kind of system, your operating policy must be that any error leads to a reboot under known good software conditions. I know, easier said than done, but ...
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