Thursday, February 14, 2008

Columbus Sets Sail

Its hard to believe, but the space station has finally witnessed the arrival of the European's Columbus module. Reading the press, one would believe that it was pulled out of the box, batteries installed, and viola', it works just like it is supposed to. Unfortunately, as in most cases, life is never as it seems.

Columbus is having its share of hiccups. Commands have to be sent twice to gets things turned on. What should be steady status bits toggle on and off. Cooling loops are not working as advertised. Sounds like normal birthing pains, no? Why should this be of concern?

Why we are worried, and not just for Columbus but for all of ISS, is that Columbus experienced none of these issues on the ground when supposedly tied into a replica of the ISS flight software systems. The fact that it is experiencing these issues on-orbit means that the minions do not understand the configuration they have on-orbit...and have not replicated it faithfully on the ground. And not having a known configuration makes for tough troubleshooting when time is short.

What other surprises await? It will only become more complicated, with trouble lurking around each successive corner, as more pieces and parts are added, moving towards assembly complete. Some time needs to be allocated for working through these issues, to understand the real configuration, and to develop an understanding of the implications on continued operations. Not doing so is a recipe for disaster.


John Benac said...

This is concerning indeed, especially considering that when the ISS (or Freedom) was being conceptualized, an independant panel decided that a better way to build it would be to build it in much larger sections built by a shuttle-C (or other newly developed large launcher. This recommendation cost less overall, but didn't use the space shuttle in it's current configuration, so they bagged that idea for the current one which is made up of many smaller pieces.

I'm sure that they will work out these configuration problems, but it is still unfortunate that the station is not built of larger components.

kT said...

Actually, size has very little to do with it, the problem is 'complexity'.

Many large articulating sections is just asking for maintenance problems.

John Benac said...

I agree. Just look at films of Skylab on YouTube to see a huge, simple space station