ICON satellite

NASA loses contact with ICON satellite

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has confirmed that communication with the satellite was lost. This loss cost over $250 million. Here’s what we know.

ICON is the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (spacecraft). The spacecraft was placed into orbit in 2003 but has not communicated with the control center since November. Experts from the space agency believe the reason for the loss of contact is a system failure.

NASA has yet to make an official statement about what caused the loss of communication between spacecraft and controllers. Experts anticipated such problems and fitted the ICON with a timer to reboot the system in the case of a communication failure within eight days. Rebooting, however, did not work.

For help, the federal agency reached out to the U.S. Department of Defense. The Pentagon’s surveillance network detected that ICON had not been launched from orbit. However, the satellite is now flying around the planet uncontrollably.

In the autumn of 2019, the spacecraft was launched. ICON was established at 580 km altitude. It then observes the upper atmosphere. Due to the expiration of the original deadline, ICON was put into orbit at a length of 580 km. The mission cost $ 252 million.

Mars Climate Orbiter
Image: Cornell Chronicle – Cornell University

The Metric System, NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter

NASA launched the Mars Climate Orbiter (638-kilogram robotic space probe) on December 11, 1998, at $125 million. It was a $638-kilogram robotic probe that studied the Martian climate and atmosphere. It also served as the communications relay for Mars Surveyor ’98, the Mars Polar Lander program. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s navigation team used the metric system (millimeters and meters) in its calculations. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, Colorado, provided vital acceleration data using the English system (inches, feet, and pounds), while Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, Colorado, designed and built the spacecraft. JPL engineers did not consider the conversion of the units. For a metric measurement of force, newton seconds2, the acceleration readings were measured in English units. The spacecraft was lost in translation.

Before we get into the details of that fateful day, let us first understand how different units were used in different regions worldwide. In the past, other parts used the measurement systems and teams that were most comfortable for them. In one area, the sun’s cycle was used to measure time. But, elsewhere, the moon’s cycles were used to determine time. The lack of communication tools made it difficult for scholars to communicate, discuss, and compare ideas across the globe. Over the centuries, various units and measurement standards have developed independently.

The need for a single, unified system has become more apparent as the world becomes closer. When the metric system was first created, the French revolution was responsible for several of its innovations. Two platinum standards representing the kilogram and the meter were then designed in the Archives de la Republique, Paris. This is the beginning of the International System of Units.

Johann Carl Fredrich Gauss was a German mathematician who strongly supported the use of the metric system following the French revolution. He also added meters and kilograms to the metric system. This was to provide a consistent method of units for the sciences. Through the British Association for the Advancement of Science, James Clerk Maxwell carried forward Gauss’s initiative to create a coherent system of units that included base and derived units. Sir Joseph John Thomson and Sir Joseph John Thomson were also involved in developing the CGS system.

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Their efforts led to the creation of the CGS system. It is a three-dimensional coherent unit system that uses three units, namely, centimeter, gram, and second-using prefixes. These prefixes range from micro to mega to express decimals and multiples. The first General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) sanctioned international prototypes for the meter and kilogram in 1889. Together with the astronomical second, these units were used to create a three-dimensional mechanical unit system. It was similar to the CGS system but with the base units of meter, kilogram, and second.

It was Giovanni Giorgi, an Italian physicist, and electrical engineer, who proved that it is possible to combine the mechanical units of this meter-kilogram-second system with the practical electric units to form a single coherent four-dimensional system by adding to the three base units, a fourth base unit of an electrical nature, such as the ampere or the ohm, and rewriting the equations occurring in electromagnetism in the so-called rationalized form.

In 1939, the Consultative Committee for Electricity and Magnetism recommended the four-dimensional system based on the meter, kilogram, and second. The International Committee also approved it for Weights and Measures (abbreviated CIPM, from the French Comite International des Poids et Mesures) for use in 1946. In 1954, Ampere and Kelvin were added to the base units. The mole was then added in 1971. There are seven base units today: Meter (Distance), Kilogram(Weight), Seconds, Time), Ampere/Electric current, Kelvin (Temperature), and Candela/Luminosity.

S.I. in the United States

These changes are immediately apparent when one travels to the U.S. There are miles instead of kilometers and pounds instead of kilograms. I used kilograms for almost 22 years. When I moved to the U.S., I was unfamiliar with the “pound.” Although I knew how much I would get for a kilogram of an item, it took a lot of work to understand what one pound represented. The United States is one of seven countries that do not use S.I. units.

The American system for measuring distance in yards, inches, and feet is based on units from England. This is the country from which the Mayflower brought the first settlers to the U.S. The rest of the world uses the metric system, which includes meters, centimeters, and kilometers. However, the U.S. still uses English units. A foot equals 12 inches, and a yard equals 36 inches. The confusion doesn’t stop there. One meter is 100 cm, and one kilometer is 1000 meters in metric. It is undisputed that many multinationals and international companies work in and/or with the United States. It is, therefore, even more vital that you can use the same units of measurement.

Recognizing the immense advantages of the metric system’s measurement system, the U.S. Congress adopted S.I. units in 1975. This was through the “Metric Conversion Act,” which was signed into law by Gerald Ford. The act allowed for the use of U.S. customary units. In the 1980s, the federal government attempted to introduce metric units in the United States. The cars’ speedometers at that time displayed kilometers and miles per hour. These attempts to convert to metric failed, however.

Despite the adoption of S.I. by the U.S. Congress as the preferred system of measurement for the United States, most businesses still use U.S. customary units. However, this reservation against metric was quickly removed at the highest space agency in the world in 1999. This was after an investigation board found that the Martian atmosphere damaged NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter.

NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter Disaster

On December 11, 1998, a Boeing Delta II 7425 expendable rocket vehicle took off with NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter.

NASA’s review board concluded that the problem was with the software controlling the orbiter’s thrusters. The software calculated how much thrusters would exert in pounds. The second code that read the data assumed that it was in metric units– “newtons per square meter.”

The propulsion engineers from Lockheed Martin in Colorado used pounds to express their force during the design phase. It was standard practice to convert space missions to metric units. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab assumed that the conversion was complete. This navigation error led to the spacecraft being too close to Earth’s atmosphere, where it burned and eventually broke apart. It was on the day that engineers had expected to celebrate its entry into Mars’ orbit.

According to the Mars Climate Orbiter failure panel, the eight-fold nature of the contributing factors led to the disaster. NASA’s board stated that errors in ground-based computer models predicted how small thruster firings would be performed on the spacecraft. These calculations were then used to guide the spacecraft’s interplanetary journey to Mars. The board also stated that operational navigation needed to be informed about the precise position of the Mars Climate Orbiter in space. This was in contrast to the earlier Mars Global Surveyor mission.

Contractor Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Colorado, made the initial mistake. Like all of the U.S. launch industry, this company used English measurement. By agreement, the contractor was required to convert measurements into metrics. The project’s systems engineering function, which was responsible for tracking and double-checking all interconnected aspects, needed to be stronger. This was made worse by the first-time handover from a Mars-bound craft to a multi-mission operations group.

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