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United Kingdom Transportation Technology

How Satellite Company Inmarsat Tracked Down MH370 491

Posted by samzenpus
from the needle-in-a-haystack dept.
mdsolar (1045926) writes "Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has announced that, based on satellite data analysis from UK company Inmarsat, Malayian Airlines flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean, and no one on board survived. 'Effectually we looked at the doppler effect, which is the change in frequency, due to the movement of a satellite in its orbit. What that then gave us was a predicted path for the northerly route and a predicted path the southerly route,' explained Chris McLaughlin, senior vice president of external affairs at Inmarsat. 'What we discovered was a correlation with the southerly route and not with the northern route after the final turn that the aircraft made, so we could be as close to certain as anybody could be in that situation that it went south. Where we then went was to work out where the last ping was, knowing that the aircraft still had some fuel, but that it would have run out before the next automated ping. We don't know what speed the aircraft was flying at, but we assumed about 450 knots.' Inmarsat passed the relevant analysis to the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) yesterday. The cause of the crash remains a mystery."
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How Satellite Company Inmarsat Tracked Down MH370

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  • Re:Flight recorder (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday March 24, 2014 @12:17PM (#46565163) Homepage

    They have narrowed down the presumed crash site. TFA states that the Malaysian government takes this data as proof that the plane crashed near Australia. While important evidence, it's hardly proof - we will need actual debris.

    The Malaysian government has been widely criticized about it's handling of this affair. They would like to wash their hands of it and go on to doing whatever it was they were doing out of the world's spotlight.

  • Re:Flight recorder (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zocalo (252965) on Monday March 24, 2014 @12:17PM (#46565169) Homepage
    Still vastly better than what it was only a day ago, and there seems to be a lot more possible debris sightings in the search area which I take as a sign they might be in the right area and will hopefully pin it down some more. The race now is to find it before the black box transmitters go silent, a task for which the US is dispatching some specialist search gear apparently, because that's probably the only hope of giving the bereaved a chance at some closure left now.
  • Re:Flight recorder (Score:5, Insightful)

    by afidel (530433) on Monday March 24, 2014 @12:23PM (#46565233)

    They're probably worthless, the cockpit voice recorders are only required to have 30 minutes capacity with a recommendation for 2 hours, since we know it was at least 4 hours between the critical event (the plane turning south) and the crash the CVR's won't have any information about the events that matter (I'm assuming 777 uses digital recorders so they won't be able to pull phantom prior recordings like they sometimes were able to on analog recorders)

  • Mystery? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alta (1263) on Monday March 24, 2014 @12:29PM (#46565291) Homepage Journal

    The cause of the crash isn't a mystery. It most likely ran out of fuel.

    The cause of why the whole damn plane went AWOL IS a mystery.

  • by Zocalo (252965) on Monday March 24, 2014 @12:31PM (#46565313) Homepage
    Inmarsat managed to eliminate the northen arc based on differences in expected doppler differences of the signal pings, when the last ping was received, and assuming a conservative fuel consumption to that point, there would have been insufficient fuel left for the plane to make land, hence it went down in the ocean. It's important to note that Inmarsat is unable to say where exactly, only that it is within a given range of the location where last known ping was now known to have been sent from, which is where the search for wreckage is now centred. I gather this is the result of a highly unorthodox set of data analysis that is well outside normal procedures for determining location, hence the reason it's taken so long - some of the techniques they used probably haven't ever been done before.
  • by BitZtream (692029) on Monday March 24, 2014 @12:37PM (#46565381)

    They have a theory, nothing more. Still no actual debris has been confirmed. They don't have the full picture so its REALLY easy for their theory to be wrong.

    God you suck ass at actually posting facts slashdot.

  • Re:Flight recorder (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geogob (569250) on Monday March 24, 2014 @12:42PM (#46565429)

    It's only completely worthless if its silent.

    On the contrary. A completely silent CVR tells you a lot; it tells you that the airplane kept on flying with every one on board either unconscious or dead for at least 2 hours before the crash. That's a critical information for the investigation.

    Furthermore, through data/media forensic, you might be able to recover the previous data that was overrecorded, although I wouldn't count on it after 3 to 4 record cycles.

  • Re:Flight recorder (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScentCone (795499) on Monday March 24, 2014 @12:46PM (#46565493)

    as a practical matter actually finding the plane won't change much

    Really? You don't think there's much of a difference between knowing it was a mechanical failure (or fire, etc) and knowing it was a deliberate criminal act? If the problem was related to payload or the aircraft's infrastructure or maintenance, you don't think it's vital for all of the other people flying on that same equipment to know what went wrong? If this was done by the pilot(s) at the behest of some organization or state, or otherwise in the service of some agenda, you don't think that's meaningful, in the context of trying to prevent it from happening again? Glad you're so relaxed about it. You probably don't do much business overseas, or ship expensive things that are central to your mission, or have relatives that fly on that equipment or in that part of the world, so that's probably why the death of hundreds and the loss of a huge, expensive aircraft is a yawner to you.

  • Re:ACARS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by icebike (68054) on Monday March 24, 2014 @12:58PM (#46565623)

    No it isn't, its not using data from a system that WAS TURNED OFF within MINUTES of the last radio contact.

    How the fuck did this get marked as insightful? Its make a wrong statement that everyone has know has been wrong since the second day.

    You should try to keep up with the actual events instead of lashing out on Slashdot.

    The DATA transmissions ceased on the ACARS, but the radio system still pings the satellite.
    The radio system keeps its link with the satellite as long as the actual transmitter has power.

    Just because you stop tweeting on your phone doesn't mean the phone stops talking to towers.

  • by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Monday March 24, 2014 @01:05PM (#46565705) Journal

    I don't know why anyone would find that disturbing.

    In Tres Roeder's "A Sixth Sense for Project Management," he shows a diagram of communications. This diagram shows information versus time.

    In the beginning, information is unknown; then the information changes, back and forth. For example: a dollar estimate may be $3,000 for a project, then $85,000 when we realize we need to excavate cabling tunnels for a line, then $6,000 when we realize we can run this across our existing tunnel and have a new fiber optic pulled for $3,000, then $7,000 when we realize we're going to also need a new transceiver, then $4000 when we find out some of the other equipment is unnecessary, then $14,000 when we realize the scope of labor required is twice as big.

    Finally, once we have enough information, that figure stays. Perhaps at $14,000. We also realize we've got the correct figure because we have a full analysis of scope and work required--or at least, the figure won't change until we've done a bunch of work and realized, deep into the project, that we missed something. In any case, it is now not likely to change simply because our information base is hot.

    During the initial planning phase, communication should reflect this: the understanding of the situation--the lack of precision--and what is being done to pin that down is to be communicated; conclusive statements should not be communicated because the current understanding of the situation is inconclusive. Once the situation has reached a point of conclusion, then you communicate these conclusions.

    What is disturbing about the Malaysian government here is they have been repeatedly saying, "We have no idea what's happening and there's a ton of information out there we're missing; but this is what happened." Then, five hours later, "Oh we found more debris, we think this happened instead." Then the next day, "Oh there was some satellite telemetry information we weren't done analyzing, but it's provided additional information, so we think the plane may have gone this way..."

    In other words: They have piles of information they know they're missing, piles of information they have a plan for finding (i.e. "ongoing investigation"), and huge and visible gaps they know exist and expect to fill. They should not be communicating any conclusions at this time.

  • Re:Flight recorder (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pixelpusher220 (529617) on Monday March 24, 2014 @01:10PM (#46565775)

    So instead of this being something done by one or two people, you'd much rather it be a systemic problem with aircraft that tens of thousands of people fly in everyday?

    Actually yes. The last time a 'few' people in cockpit tried nefarious stuff, the world changed and the US (my country) invaded Iraq and started headlong down the road to totalitarianism. A perfect storm really. An already corrupt 2 party system that doesn't do any serious check and balance, only raise money for re-election, now gets a perfect 'for the children' defense for *anything* proposed no matter how stupid or pointless it is.

    Or we have a mechanical failure that can be fixed...

    I'll take the latter every single time. The above sounds like a rabid libertarian point of view, but I assure you it isn't. I'm as left wing liberal as just about anybody. I believe in government and it having a purpose; but with the NSA and everything else we've seen in the last 15 is truly broken to the core and it's up to us to fix it.

  • Re:Flight recorder (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Talderas (1212466) on Monday March 24, 2014 @01:12PM (#46565787)

    Whether or not there are survivors was pretty much a moot point by March 15. If it was a violent crash into the water, no more than three dozen probably survived impact. Of those three dozen, probably 50% or more sustained fatal injuries that would kill them within 16-24hrs without immediate medical attention. The remainder would have perished within 3-7 days due to dehydration and lack of nuitrition. That's ignoring any exposure related issues, predatory marine life, or drowning. Dehydration, starvation, and miscellaneous death causes would have happened over 3-7 days if it was a soft landing.

    Had they, on a slim chance, crashed on land rather than the sea there might still be some chance that survivors lived but that is going to be a hard landing and those that did survivor it may not have been mobile, conscious, or otherwise in a state where they might be able to find potable water or food wherever they landed.

    The purpose of finding the plane is not to be able to declare the passengers and crew dead the fact that they waited this long was cruel because it unnecessarily kept hope alive. The purpose is to recovered the recorders so that it can be can be determined what might have happened and if there was any mechanical or electrical issues that would warrant attention for other 777s.

  • Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GameMaster (148118) on Monday March 24, 2014 @01:26PM (#46565931)

    * We've had flight recorders on all major airliners for decades now.

    * We've had satellite phone technology for decades now. (since 1979 for Inmarsat)

    Remind me again why "black box" style cellular data transmitters aren't required to be transmitting cockpit voice data and full telemetry from every major airliner at all times yet? With a system like that, installed in a way that can't be tampered with by the people in t he plane and runs independently of the rest of the electronics in the aircraft, there's no reason we would know the exact location the plane went down and, most likely, why. Hell, even if they decided to be cheap and only have it transmit the telemetry in once-a-minute updates we'd still would have know where the plane was to withing a handful of miles from the first day it went missing...

  • Re:Flight recorder (Score:4, Insightful)

    by aaarrrgggh (9205) on Monday March 24, 2014 @02:46PM (#46566875)

    The CVR only records for an hour or two of audio. In all probability, nobody in the cockpit was making noise the last two hours. The FDR would have the whole flight, and will likely show the cause of the crash being fuel exhaustion.

    As best I can tell, there is nearly zero chance that there was a fire that turned off ACARS message transmission, then caused corruption in the flight management computer to add several waypoints off the programmed course, then slowly proceeded to short out the transponder 5 minutes later, then caused the VHF radio to stop working immediately after handoff from Malaysian ATC, all the while not impacting the ability for controlled flight of the plane.

    Unfortunately, the bat-shit scary truth of the matter appears to be that the pilot decided to kill himself and everybody else on the plane, and there really isn't much that passengers or other flight crew can do to prevent the outcome.

  • Re:Flight recorder (Score:4, Insightful)

    by styrotech (136124) on Monday March 24, 2014 @04:30PM (#46568331)

    I appreciated the joke, but on a more serious note...

    The media don't get closure, they get amnesia.

Computer Science is the only discipline in which we view adding a new wing to a building as being maintenance -- Jim Horning