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Bug NASA Space News Hardware

Cooling Pump Malfunction On ISS 86

Posted by Soulskill
from the no-la-forge-door-rolls-required dept.
eldavojohn writes "On Saturday at 8pm GMT, the crew of the International Space Station awoke to alarm bells as one of two ammonia pumps shut down due to a spike in power. Their backup cooling (Loop B) is functioning as designed and NASA released an official statement: 'The crew is in no danger, but will need to work additional troubleshooting on Sunday to keep the station in a stable configuration, including the installation of a jumper cable to maintain proper cooling to the Zarya module in the Russian segment.'"
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Cooling Pump Malfunction On ISS

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  • 1) Where's the Duct Tape?

    2) Duct tape something ("including the installation of a jumper cable to maintain proper cooling to the Zarya module in the Russian segment");

    3) Problem solved!

    • The aliens did it.
    • This is why it's still important to have humans in the loop.

      We will most likely have human-equivalent machine intelligence in a few decades, but at this moment a piece of duct tape in human hands can do miracles that no amount of planning, programming, and design could allow a machine to perform.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by yodleboy (982200)
        wait a sec, if there were no humans on the ISS, much of its complexity would be unnecessary, eliminating the need to have humans in the loop. Specifically, i'm thinking of all the components that make it able to support human life, which seem to have a higher incidence of failure/issue. It's always a toilet or a/c unit freaking out up there.
        • by Rich0 (548339)

          Yup - would they even need cooling if it weren't for the people?

          Ditto for the hubble. People talk about it like it was a great victory for science that the space shuttle could fix it.

          Instead of launching special rescue missions with the shuttle they could have:

          1. Made the hubble servicable by robots.
          2. Just made a new hubble every few years. Forget upgrades, just replace the whole thing.

          The advantage of #2 is that instead of putting up a cutting-edge telescope and making it last 20 years, you just put u

          • by vlm (69642)

            The only part of the hubble that is probably worth recycling is the mirror, since the technology for mirrors hasn't changed much in the last 100 years (unless it can go adaptive/etc) .... The mirror doesn't need any moving parts so it should last forever.

            One part you're missing is the decay rate. True the technology of mirrors hasn't changed, but that doesn't mean they'll last, unmaintained, forever.

            I wonder how quickly the aluminum reflective layer oxidizes in space. Not much O2, but O+ ions are probably even worse. Also outgasing from the rest of the scope condensing back onto the mirror, although you could probably occasionally heat the mirror to clean it.

            The mirror will not last forever, or at least the reflective layer will not. It may, however, la

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Rich0 (548339)

              Also its far cheaper to maintain a scope that is extremely nearby the space station, than it is to maintain with robots or shuttles.

              Sure, if you don't account for the cost of the space station in the first place.

              Why you'd spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a space station to save a few tens of millions of dollars on telescope repairs is beyond me...

              • "Why you'd spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a space station to save a few tens of millions of dollars on telescope repairs is beyond me..."

                Because the space station isn't ONLY first servicing the scope. The station will be used for whatever science you do there anyway and every so often it will service the scope. The fact that this is beyond you means that you're a dipshit, it's really quite fucking obvious.
                • by Rich0 (548339)

                  My argument stands - what purpose does this station serve?

                  What science is done on the station that couldn't be done more effectively with probes?

                  What repairs does it do that couldn't be done more effectively with probes?

                  Now, if you already have a space station, taking advantage of it by leveraging marginal costs for marginal benefits is just good sense. However, nobody has made a case for why this thing is up there in the first place.

                  It seems like if you want to talk about probe repairs the argument will b

          • by bloobloo (957543)

            I'd say that Hubble is still more than "pretty nice" now, 20 years after it was launched.

            • by Rich0 (548339)

              And how much nicer would it have been if it weren't designed to require shuttle visits, and if the cost of those visits went into other probes. Perhaps it could have gone into building more than one hubble in the first place.

              A bit of a tangent, but why is it that when they build these things they don't just make more than one, or at least plan to make more than one? 95% of the cost is probably in the design, so if you just run off more than one you'd have a LOT more bang for the buck.

              • "but why is it that when they build these things they don't just make more than one"

                Because there's no point. You can't do twice as much science with two Hubble telescopes. Also, a lot of the money is in the design, but that doesn't mean that construction costs are negligible.

                If you need a new engine in your car and you take it to a mechanic MOST of the cost will be the labor, but a new engine sure as hell ain't cheap. Same deal here. Scopes like this are built to extreme tolerances, which is expensive.
                • by Rich0 (548339)

                  You can't do twice as much science with two Hubble telescopes.

                  I had no idea that whoever ran the Hubble never had to turn down an application to make use of the thing. Perhaps if there were two of them more would get done more quickly.

                  No doubt there is some limit on the usefulness of a space-based telescope, but if we really were running out of useful things to do with the Hubble why did we bother fixing those gyros in the first place?

                  It seems like you're arguing that the Hubble is important enough to sav

          • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

            by slick7 (1703596)

            Yup - would they even need cooling if it weren't for the people?

            Sounds like the right mentality to go to Mars/ Asteroids/ or anywhere else off this planet.
            How many Luddite flat-landers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Jeremi (14640)

              Sounds like the right mentality to go to Mars/ Asteroids/ or anywhere else off this planet.

              If you want a preview of what living off planet would be like, build yourself a water-tight metal cocoon, lock yourself inside, have it dropped to the bottom of the ocoean, and live inside it for the rest of your life -- no, you can't ever come back. Oh yeah, and for complete realism, you're not allowed to examine any fish or other lifeforms or collect any to eat, because off-planet, there won't be any.

              Sorry to be a

              • by slick7 (1703596)

                If you want a preview of what living off planet would be like, build yourself a water-tight metal cocoon, lock yourself inside, have it dropped to the bottom of the ocean, and live inside it for the rest of your life..

                Oh really? [google.com]

                • by Jeremi (14640)

                  Yes, people live in nuclear submarines, often for months at a time. Then the submarine comes back to port, takes on fresh supplies and fuel, undergoes any necessary repairs and maintenance, and everyone gets off the boat for a while and enjoys some shore leave. It's the regular visits back to "Earth" that keep the crew alive, healthy, and sane -- and those visits would not be possible for people living at the bottom of some other gravity well.

                  • by slick7 (1703596)

                    Yes, people live in nuclear submarines, often for months at a time. Then the submarine comes back to port, takes on fresh supplies and fuel, undergoes any necessary repairs and maintenance, and everyone gets off the boat for a while and enjoys some shore leave. It's the regular visits back to "Earth" that keep the crew alive, healthy, and sane -- and those visits would not be possible for people living at the bottom of some other gravity well.

                    Oh really? [csmonitor.com]

              • by vlm (69642) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @01:01PM (#33101728)

                after the first few weeks/months, living off-planet would be a hellish claustrophobic monotony punctuated only by the occasional crisis. By the time the first critical life-support system gave out and killed everyone, it's likely that most of the population wouldn't mind dying.

                You make it sound like living in New York. I don't think it'll be that bad.

              • "If you want a preview of what living off planet would be like, build..."

                Yeah, it'll suck for awhile. Of course, the idea is that you then DEVELOP the colony into a bigger colony, then you become self sufficient, etc. It's not a matter of "go sit on mars and do nothing", it's "go to mars, set up a bigger camp, and we'll send another ship in a few months with more people and more supplies, etc."

                Also, he's not saying that we should go to mars RIGHT THE HELL NOW. He's saying that we need to actually work to
                • by slick7 (1703596)

                  "If you want a preview of what living off planet would be like, build..."

                  The technology is there, and has been there for decades. However, it will take a team effort, TEAM PLANET EARTH. Traveling to Mars or anywhere else, other than the Moon is nothing more than "a pig in a poke", A scam, a fool's errand. If you want to go on a trip you need several things before you go.
                  1. A place to depart from and to return.
                  2. You need to bring all the supplies you can possibly need. There are no motels, no McDonalds, no BP gas stations (yeah). This isn't 1492 nor is it 1849.
                  3. Nobody gets it

            • by yodleboy (982200)
              "Sounds like the right mentality to go to Mars/ Asteroids/ or anywhere else off this planet. How many Luddite flat-landers does it take to screw in a light bulb?"

              there's a world of difference between going to the moon/mars etc. and a station in low earth orbit, that was largely created to keep the space agencies of several countries employed and to justify the continuation of the shuttle program. How much more time do we need to spend in LEO? Imagine if Columbus and all those other great explorers had b
            • by Rich0 (548339)

              Why go anywhere off-planet in the first place? With people, that is?

              Is it just to say that we did it? Well, that's nice and all, and you're free to start collecting donations, but I'd rather not have myself and all my descendants for 30 years be paying the bills.

              Is it to start some kind of viable off-planet existence? That actually makes sense to me, but in that case maybe we should go ahead and terraform the planet we intend to live on FIRST, and then start sending people to live on it. Just about all

              • by slick7 (1703596)

                Why go anywhere off-planet in the first place? With people, that is?

                Is it just to say that we did it? Well, that's nice and all, and you're free to start collecting donations, but I'd rather not have myself and all my descendants for 30 years be paying the bills.

                Is it to start some kind of viable off-planet existence? That actually makes sense to me, but in that case maybe we should go ahead and terraform the planet we intend to live on FIRST, and then start sending people to live on it. Just about all the research needed for this would be done on the ground, where it is a heck of a lot cheaper.

                Is it to explore the solar system? Well, that is certainly done a lot cheaper with probes. Unhappy that we just have two of them stuck on one part of mars? Well, then go ahead and launch 50 of them, or build ones with wings or whatever. Any approach you take will be far cheaper if you leave out the people.

                Calling somebody a luddite for not wanting to spend billions of dollars on orbiting stations is kind of like calling somebody a luddite for not owning their own learjet. It has nothing to do with not finding such things interesting or without value - they just do not have value proportionate to their cost.

                When a place gets crowded enough to require ID's, social collapse is not far away. It is time to go elsewhere. The best thing about space travel is that it made it possible to go elsewhere. - RAH

                • by Rich0 (548339)

                  Trust me, you're far more likely to get away with not having an ID in the hills of Kentucky than boarding a spacecraft...

                  Maybe AFTER we terraform mars that might be an option. Actually, I'm not sold on terraforming, just living in orbit in space stations is probably more sensible - AFTER the technology exists to allow this to be done cost-effectively.

                  • by slick7 (1703596)

                    Trust me, you're far more likely to get away with not having an ID in the hills of Kentucky than boarding a spacecraft...

                    You ain't from around here, are you boy?

          • by mangu (126918)

            would they even need cooling if it weren't for the people?

            Yes, they would. Thermal management is a big issue in any spacecraft, manned or not. There's no air to remove heat, everything has to be radiated away. However, if you make the surfaces able to radiate as much heat as possible this also means they will absorb as much heat when sunshine hits them.

            1. Made the hubble servicable by robots.

            Believe me, I've been doing this for a quarter of a century, a robot able to do maintenance in space is the wet dream

          • "Yup - would they even need cooling if it weren't for the people?"

            Short answer: yes
            Long answer: Yes, but a different kind. You have the sun radiating heat to the device and the device itself is radiating heat away. Balancing these two is generally performed by orienting the satellite in the proper manner and opening/closing certain panels to allow various things to radiate heat out of the satellite.

            "Instead of launching special rescue missions with the shuttle they could have:

            1. Made the Hubble serviceabl
            • by Rich0 (548339)

              My point was that it should have been built so that things like gyros are replaceable, or that they don't break.

              As far as launching robots goes - it is a LOT cheaper to launch a robot than a shuttle.

              The cost of necessary repairs should of course be factored into the decision to launch the thing in the first place.

              In any case, the decision to junk the Hubble and launch an entirely new scope seems to already have been made. :)

        • by wgoodman (1109297)

          Electronics still create heat. They're all in a heavily insulated box up there, the insulation is there to keep out radiation which would fry both fleshy and non fleshy inhabitants. It's not like they can just drop a huge heatsink on the outside, there's no air to blow past it and cool the damned thing. Humans up there or not, the AC is pretty damned important up there.

    • by mtmra70 (964928)

      Gaffer tape is far superior in just about every way.

  • Is Feature! (Score:5, Funny)

    by DWMorse (1816016) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @10:29AM (#33101002) Homepage
    Our cooling pump is now, for your convenience, a heating pump. For survival in the cold of space.
    • You're right! In fact, why don't they just crack a window? It is indeed very cold in space lol.
  • They should develop artificial gravity. That way their absorption chillers won't need pumps.

    Much simpler.

    • by vlm (69642)

      They should develop artificial gravity. That way their absorption chillers won't need pumps.

      Much simpler.

      Capillary action heat pipes work even better than pumped absorption chillers, and are even simpler than absorption chillers or artificial gravity. I'm sure we'll discover, this being a NASA project, that some important congressman's vote was purchased by someone in his district manufacturing the pumps. It is theoretically possible NASA made a design choice based on technical reasons such as heat pipes being heavier per watt, although it seems unlikely they'd use criteria like that.

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      They should develop artificial gravity. That way their absorption chillers won't need pumps.

      Much simpler.

      This sounds like a production manager. Failure to perform periodic preventative maintenance carries a cost.
      Reactive maintenance = Crisis management, sufficient for the short term, sucks for the long term.

  • 8pm EDT, not GMT.
  • Hmm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @11:03AM (#33101142) Journal
    I'm surprised that they would be using ammonia coolants, rather than something more exotic and less toxic.

    Ammonia makes perfect sense in industrial ice plants and rink chillers and stuff, being dirt cheap, and not especially dangerous when you have an entire planet's atmosphere to dilute the leaks. Plus, it doesn't have the Ozone-eating properties of the CFCs.

    In space, though, everything is expensive by default, having been carried into earth orbit, there isn't much of an ozone layer to worry about, and you really don't have enough breathable atmosphere available to risk contaminating it with anything unpleasant. Ammonia seems like a curious choice.

    Anybody know why they would have gone with that?
    • by houghi (78078)

      Perhaps because everything else would need more (read heavier) equipment and thus would be costing other stuff they want to bring up there. Just guessing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bloobloo (957543)

      Molecular weight of ammonia = 17
      Molecular weight of R12 = 121

    • by rickb928 (945187)

      "not especially dangerous when you have an entire planet's atmosphere to dilute the leaks."

      Apparently you've never been in a ice rink with an ammonia leak , or even a suspected one. Panic evacuation is the first response. Not enough atmosphere where the ammonia is actually used to dilute it sufficiently.

      • by Pyrowolf (877012)
        I think the point is, you can't evacuate and have air to breathe away from the ice rink. They don't have that luxury.
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by vlm (69642) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @11:59AM (#33101384)

      I'm surprised that they would be using ammonia coolants, rather than something more exotic and less toxic ... Anybody know why they would have gone with that?

      IF its an absorption cycle system, you just can't do better than ammonia. Its hard to find any refrigerant gas that dissolves better in water... absorption cycle is nice on planet earth, no moving parts, no lubricant compatibility issues. In space you need pumps, however.

      On the other hand, if its a vapor-compression system like your fridge at home, yes it is in fact a pretty cruddy choice and any of the freon series would kick its butt (as a refrigerant, anyway)

      On earth you can play games with gravity to prevent/reduce slugging the compressor in a vapor-compression system. Not sure how you do that in space. Slugging a compressor is when load/airflow is low and you feed a gulp of liquid into the intake instead of moderately hot gas. Its kind of a shock to the innards, its the pump equivalent of eating at Taco Bell...

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refrigeration#Cyclic_refrigeration [wikipedia.org]

      • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Informative)

        by vlm (69642) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @12:15PM (#33101480)

        Reason 3 which I forgot to include, is radiation turns ammonia into harmless H2 and N2. Little to no effect on the equipment or thermodynamic properties at any reasonable concentration. If you catch enough gammas to break down 50% of the refrigerant, roughly 50% of the crew mass would have been broken down, indicating bigger problems.

        Radiation turns fluorocarbons into fluorine and assorted debris. fluorine, at any concentration, is not good in anything except fluorine tanks. Anthropomorphizing it a bit, F likes to halogenate hydrocarbons like pump oil or plain ole oily contaminants leading to all kinds of entertainment. Its just nasty stuff even at the lowest concentrations. I suppose you could design and install a nice heavy halogen trap, but you'd never Really Know about the internal corrosion levels of the pumps and pipes without very expensive continuous maintenance. The entire refrigeration system would need to be halogen compatible. On earth its not an issue due to low radiation levels and frankly if my A/C pipes corrode out its not life threatening anyway. But not so good of an idea in space.

        Finally ammonia is high temperature stable and if you somehow manage to dissociate it anyway, the N2 and H2 are mostly harmless and can be flushed out. On the other hand, SOME of the fluorocarbons have pretty nasty icky byproducts if you overheat them, by, say, the pump shutting down in full sunlight for a long time.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mmontour (2208)

        On the other hand, if its a vapor-compression system like your fridge at home, yes it is in fact a pretty cruddy choice and any of the freon series would kick its butt (as a refrigerant, anyway)

        In terms of performance, ammonia is one of the best refrigerants in vapor-compression systems. Freon is easier and safer for small systems but ammonia is preferred for large industrial applications.

        • by vlm (69642)

          In terms of performance, ammonia is one of the best refrigerants in vapor-compression systems.

          Yes, but that re-circularizes the argument, back to the original post that if you must have a leak into a confined space, like a space station, you'd have to try really hard to find a worse refrigerant than ammonia, so why in the world would NASA use it, etc. For toxicity reasons I'd still stand by my statement that it is a really cruddy refrigerant for a vapor compression cycle, unless you're doing absorption cycle, in which case its performance is so utterly fantastic I guess we'll have to over look the

      • The ISS uses a cooling system - not a refrigeration system. The ammonia is used merely as a working fluid to convey heat from the station's interior to radiators, were it is rejected.

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      I'm surprised that they would be using ammonia coolants, rather than something more exotic and less toxic.

      Less toxic? Ammonia, R-12, R-134a, etc are un-breathable. The least toxic is water, unless you drown in it.
      How about... Something a little more high tech? [yahoo.net]

    • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday August 01, 2010 @12:06PM (#33101422) Homepage

      The problem is that the ISS ultimately rejects heat by radiating it away through radiators mounted on the solar array wings - and water would freeze and plug up the radiators.
       
      So instead, they use a water loop to cool the atmosphere and equipment, and then transfer that heat to the ammonia system which then circulates through the radiators. (It's pretty easy to design the system such that there is minimal ammonia piping (and thus a minimal chance of an accident) inside the manned spaces.) Since ammonia freezes at a much colder temperature than water, this means it's much easier to keep the coolant moving at a rate where it radiates enough heat to be useful but still stays warm enough to not freeze.
       
      It's going to be a complex trade off to choose a coolant, and few people seem to realize that NASA does take into consideration cost and availability when making their choices. They aren't so good at controlling costs as they might be, which is understandable since overall they're working at the bleeding edge of engineering, but that doesn't mean they don't try.
       
      And really, there's isn't much of a difference between ammonia or anything more exotic because even something 'safe' (like nitrogen for example) is still going to rapidly displace the oxygen from the air (that is, reduce the effective partial pressure) if there's a leak because of the small volume of the breathable atmosphere.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    > Once awake, space station astronauts powered down some attitude control systems

    I wonder what the attitudes are now, without the control systems in place.

    • Seeing as they just woke up, I guess that would depend upon whether or not they're morning people.
      But I'm guessing when you're in space, those lines start to blur.

      • by slick7 (1703596)

        Once awake, space station astronauts powered down some attitude control systems

        ...and were snippy for the next 27 orbits.

  • Who's the most popular person at an alien wedding? The guy with the jumper cables...

  • You guys make it sound like some kind of ghetto housing project.

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      You guys make it sound like some kind of ghetto housing project.

      ...or West Virginia?

  • I've seen this before - Ripley probably disabled the cooling as part of the self-destruct sequence.

  • "In the case of a fire alarm, immediately leave the building and go to the Assembly Point.
    Do not stop to pick up belongings or put on your clothes, and don't use the lift.

    Thank you,

    Your Fire Warden"

Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves. -- Lazarus Long

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