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posted by janrinok on Friday July 05, @06:48PM   Printer-friendly
from the not-quite-vorsprung-durch-technik dept.

Arthur T Knackerbracket has processed the following story:

On the day before Christmas last year, a Falcon 9 rocket launched from California and put two spy satellites into low-Earth orbit for the armed forces of Germany, which are collectively called the Bundeswehr.

Initially, the mission appeared successful. The German satellite manufacturer, OHB, declared that the two satellites were "safely in orbit." The addition of the two SARah satellites completed a next-generation constellation of three reconnaissance satellites, the company said.

However, six months later, the two satellites have yet to become operational. According to the German publication Der Spiegel, the antennas on the satellites cannot be unfolded. Engineers with OHB have tried to resolve the issue by resetting the flight software, performing maneuvers to vibrate or shake the antennas loose, and more to no avail.

As a result, last week, German lawmakers were informed that the two new satellites will probably not go into operation as planned.

The three-satellite constellation known as SARah—the SAR is a reference to the synthetic aperture radar capability of the satellites—was ordered in 2013 at a cost of $800 million. The first of the three satellites, SARah 1, launched in June 2022 on a Falcon 9 rocket. This satellite was built by Airbus in southern Germany, and it has since gone into operation without any problems.

[...] This new constellation was intended to replace an aging fleet of similar, though less capable, satellites known as  SAR-Lupe. This five-satellite constellation launched nearly two decades ago.

According to the Der Spiegel report, the Bundeswehr says the two SARah satellites built by OHB remain the property of the German company and would only be turned over to the military once they were operational. As a result, the military says OHB will be responsible for building two replacement satellites.

[...] the German publication says that its sources indicated OHB did not fully test the functionality and deployment of the satellite antennas on the ground. This could not be confirmed.

This setback comes as OHB is attempting to complete a deal to go private—the investment firm KKR is planning to acquire the German space company. OHB officials said they initiated the effort to go private late last year because public markets had "structurally undervalued" the company.


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  • (Score: 0, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 05, @10:07PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 05, @10:07PM (#1363220)

    What? Those Germans are allowed to have spy satellites? Will we never learn? Give them weather balloons.

    • (Score: 2) by Thexalon on Saturday July 06, @10:59AM

      by Thexalon (636) on Saturday July 06, @10:59AM (#1363276)

      Oh, like 99 Luftballons in Germany could ever cause any major trouble.

      --
      The only thing that stops a bad guy with a compiler is a good guy with a compiler.
  • (Score: 3, Informative) by MostCynical on Friday July 05, @11:10PM (13 children)

    by MostCynical (2589) on Friday July 05, @11:10PM (#1363225) Journal

    There are thousands of satellites orbiting the earth, but we only really hear about the failures (humans like things that go "bang")

    Satellites are hard to make, launching them is even harder.. OHB is a relatively new company - did they bid low to get the work?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spacecraft_manufacturers [wikipedia.org]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_private_spaceflight_companies [wikipedia.org]

    --
    "I guess once you start doubting, there's no end to it." -Batou, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by corey on Friday July 05, @11:50PM (1 child)

      by corey (2202) on Friday July 05, @11:50PM (#1363229)

      It is hard. My work has a small bunch of sats up and a couple failed to become operational initially. Main thing was unraveling of the solar panels, we could only talk to one for a little while after deployment as it ran on batteries. We had a couple stuck together once. They did come apart after a few months after the guys tried all sorts of stuff. The challenge is needing to fold all the antennas and solar panels up into a small footprint during launch them successfully unravelling in space, all while keeping it as simple as possible and light as possible. You can’t just walk up to it and whack it with a wrench to help it.

      • (Score: 3, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 06, @02:41AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 06, @02:41AM (#1363256)

        Yeah in space there's often near vacuum which makes unwanted cold-welding more common: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_welding#In_space [wikipedia.org]

        After all how do two parts of the same material "know" they are separate parts after they touch each other?

        😉

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by anubi on Saturday July 06, @12:00AM (10 children)

      by anubi (2828) on Saturday July 06, @12:00AM (#1363232) Journal

      You brought up a real enigma within the human condition. Free-enterprise vs. Government ( socialist ) work.

      Neither is ideal. Humans are involved.

      Free enterprise has a tendency to cut corners to optimize returns. It operates on statistical curve, and we each will choose a spot on that curve. Some of us play it safe, and don't get anywhere. Some of us take chances, and lose it all.

      The governmental socialist approach removes goads for timely completion, which leads to corruption and things that never get done.

      I think I see the problem, but have no solution for it. Many of the worthwhile things the ancients built spanned generations, and still stand to this day.

      However, let me say barely stand, as some of those massive stacked-stone structures appear to me ready to come down on their own anytime, despite the obvious investment in labor invested in their construction.

      Much of our stuff is only good for a couple of decades before either deteriorating beyond usability or obsolescence. Forced obsolescence hasn't helped either.

      If I make things, I want it to last forever, as I recognize I had to invest the most limited thing I have, time, to make it ( including time to earn the financial resources to make it ).

      And I don't make much.

      --
      "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by ChrisMaple on Saturday July 06, @12:35AM (8 children)

        by ChrisMaple (6964) on Saturday July 06, @12:35AM (#1363237)

        Some projects require a man with a vision to drive them. In my limited experience, such men are unpleasant to work for (but not always). They are more likely to be able to achieve their goals with capitalism.

        • (Score: 2, Interesting) by anubi on Saturday July 06, @03:14AM (5 children)

          by anubi (2828) on Saturday July 06, @03:14AM (#1363262) Journal

          Agreed.

          The worst one I worked for seemed to have little understanding of what he was asking if me, as if I could immediately master a new machine, new software, new project, and new compartmentalization which prevented the normal interactions with my former co-workers upon the company I worked for getting new "leadership".

          They were great at administering charge numbers to the hour for each task, while I had no earthly idea how to do what they wanted the way they wanted it done. I became a Fortran compiler being fed C++ source code. I could eventually learn as I already had 30+ years experience at the time doing mostly low level analog and power electronics.

          I was simply incompatible with the leadership techniques learned at the business schools.

          Neither one of us won. I lost a career where I had the most interesting and enjoyable times of my life, and the business-centric guys got the joys of explaining to upper echelon why things weren't working. They held onto employment about two years longer than mine. In the end, everything was gone, except our beautiful admin building, which is now a church.

          Boeing is experiencing the same problems.

          The thing it seems that is not taught in Business school is how valuable the knowledge base of a company is and once those people are gone, the knowledge those people had is no longer accessible. It may have taken decades to acquire the experience of making things, hours to prepare layoff forms should any worker-bee stand up to one of the corporate men of rank and privilege.

          I need to work with/for people who know what they are doing. I don't know it all, actually, I know very little, but I eventually discover who is into what and at least posit cogent questions. I used to think I knew a lot, but being in the presence of such men as my co-workers changed that perception pretty damn quick.

          --
          "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
          • (Score: 3, Interesting) by PiMuNu on Saturday July 06, @08:19AM (4 children)

            by PiMuNu (3823) on Saturday July 06, @08:19AM (#1363274)

            I am always interested in project management techniques. A lot of project management tools are very crude; for example the notion of Full Time Equivalent is nonsense for technical things - a good dev can do 10 x more than a bad dev in the same time. On the other hand someone does need to sit down and decide how long a project will take and how many people will be needed to do it. Someone also needs to decide how to structure a project and what technical things will be required. It's a difficult task.

            Worth remembering that project management (e.g. PRINCE) was invented by software folks.

            • (Score: 2, Interesting) by anubi on Saturday July 06, @11:05AM (3 children)

              by anubi (2828) on Saturday July 06, @11:05AM (#1363277) Journal

              Here's an example...I've been buying legacy Compaq CQ56 laptops off eBay. For parts. I want these old machines as the softwares I have were sold under perpetual license, and I support my work over decades. So I fix these for my own use and as backups so I can swap parts amongst my machines, as they are all identical. I am also preparing for the day I can no longer use them, as I am arranging to have these machines given to those I have made things for.

              Note: I have access to the Internet and know about finding helps on YouTube.

              Time learning to clone hard drives...several weeks and several crashed drives.

              Time it takes me to do it now ... Several Hours

              Time learning to use DiskPart...several days counting recovery from mistakes.

              Now? Minutes.

              Resolving activation issues...months of research...to find others on the net with the same problem, as this legacy stuff is no longer supported by the OEM, while the machines I designed 20 years ago are still working fine. All my design detail files exist in legacy systems.

              Then I discover a few fixers I bought have BIOS corruption and other hardware problems. I must learn how to physically disassemble and reassemble the laptops, and re-flash BIOS. I am learning that now. I am several months in. I may have to go as far as the physical PCB work of replacing IC's.

              Once I can do this, I should be able to maintain these machines and their data bases until replacement hardware, even "junk" hardware off eBay, becomes unobtanium.

              It has taken me decades of work to integrate enough experience to do what I do.

              I have seen just how deadly the "leadership" types can be to a team of people like me. To accomplish the total destruction of a company, they need rank, and the privilege of firing any dissent. They love spreadsheets full of dreams. They abhor tools. Yet are good at finding those who will place them in authority over the little people, who see the pay given to those who just get in the way. Seems almost like one of those government psychological research studies designed to see just how much Manipulation, Bullshit, and Assholery a workforce will tolerate before they simply burn out and retire on the job.

              I fear working under anyone but the top dog, as I fear the intermediate middleman will just use his power to paralyze me, keep me ignorant, deny my resources, and ruin me in the name of "office politics". My technical skills are no match for dealing in arenas based on people skills.

              Another fear I have is that I biologically expire before I show others the ropes in the same manner the ropes were shown to me. I don't see that 60's style teamwork culture I grew up with around anymore.

              It has become all merit based Dog-Eat-Dog.

              Our greatest strength was communication and working together/teaching each other. That has been replaced with competitive individualism under a generation of business school graduates with spreadsheets, calculating hour by hour, the costs of keeping us around, hiring and firing, for the leanest, meanest money-making machine possible.

              People like me cannot exist in that kind of environment. Best hire "yes - men" that know better than question authority. I will live much lower in society, fixing scrap computers, maintaining legacy machines, even working in pizza parlors, than have to work under those who constantly have us at each other's throats.

              I don't even try anymore for a corporate job. Bad attitude. Why do I have a "bad attitude"? They need to study that in Business schools for the same reason I study how to fix my stuff. Anybody can take a working thing and destroy it. It took an artisan to build it. If I understand that machine, I get the fruits of its labor...or I can watch others haul it away when I lay it off.

              --
              "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
              • (Score: 3, Interesting) by anubi on Saturday July 06, @12:37PM (2 children)

                by anubi (2828) on Saturday July 06, @12:37PM (#1363287) Journal

                I got off on a tangent recalling my last days working in Corporate.

                Project Management Tools?
                Spreadsheets. Gantt charts

                I think the most important thing is you have personally done what you want others to do.

                They will tell you anything to get on the payroll, yet devote far more effort on legal means and psychology to stay on the payroll than actually doing anything.

                If they do this for high salary, you will attract a lot of finely dressed hand-shakers. It's really hard to attract the ones with a passion for narrow technologies...they form close-knit groups and their associates mostly snap up any available candidates before any resumes are even conceived. I worked for several smaller companies since layoff...I never printed a resume. I just had a few good "bullshit sessions" with the top guy. It was invariably the man who founded the company. It was casual...I do not even own a suit.

                The most important thing to me was could I do this using everything I had to throw at it. Including anything I could make or had made. Even if it was spectrum analyzers made with varactor TV tuners.

                You are quite generous in your estimation of only a 10 to 1 ratio variance in productivity in people. My experience is there will exixt mostly people who spent years of experience to do an hours worth of work. Buy me a Stradivarius, and I still can't play it! You would just as soon bought me a Chandelier to play.

                One either has to homegrown the skillets of the team, or really luck out finding someone who has learned how to solve your problem on someone else's dime.

                Which is as about as improbable as me finding the legacy parts I need to address my issues.

                It helps a lot that I know exactly what I am looking for and where I might find one.

                It's one thing to use leadership tools to manage a project, but in actuality, those are only tools. The finest tools in the hands of someone who doesn't have the experience using it just results in unrealized dreams of what could be. I'm sure you've heard that story of the master violinist who found a $25 fiddle at a neighbor's garage sale and caused such a heated war over it he netted his neighbor $200 for it.

                The people who founded that aerospace company I worked at were master violinists. They were replaced with people who could operate a music player.

                Plunk the money down, watch investment returns roll in. Just hire musicians and give them what they are to play. So what if a guy who was good on drums was given a sax. Failure. Have to let that guy go. This doesn't go on for long before the patrons stop attending concerts. Even with the latest accounting tools and marketing techniques.

                The guys who founded and ran the companies I worked at all had their product and the people who made it front and center. No investors. We all were doing as we were so guided, and the founder did exactly as I do on my stuff...choose the correct part! Don't judge a capacitor by how shiny it is.

                The secret to success is mostly choosing the correct part and putting it in the correct circuit. That takes experience. You will develop the tools you need over time, just as I have, to do anything you need.

                Me? I am as picky over my tools as a pro golfer is over his clubs. I know my stuff like the back of my hand. I can usually make do with someone else's stuff, but there's apt to be an expensive learning curve as I discover the quirks in the new tools.

                I don't know if this helps or not, but having seen things going up, and things going to pot, I have made some observations. You will too.

                --
                "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
                • (Score: 2) by PiMuNu on Monday July 08, @05:59PM (1 child)

                  by PiMuNu (3823) on Monday July 08, @05:59PM (#1363462)

                  Thanks - interesting observations.

                  • (Score: 1) by anubi on Monday July 08, @08:59PM

                    by anubi (2828) on Monday July 08, @08:59PM (#1363490) Journal

                    At my age, attitude had changed too.

                    Being too old to restart any seniority, vesting, work up the ladder thing, I became a "session guy", an informal contract guy. I no longer needed a steady income. I am there just to fix the problem and go. The gig economy.

                    However, my California governor has come down hard on gig employees. Everybody has to be a business now, complete with humongous overhead to support an entourage of superfluous participants. It's hard to operate informally at anythng resembling a "reasonable rate".

                    I have to charge like a "rock star", to support all the baggage that legalizes my contracts. I didn't work under contract. His word was good enough for me.

                    I design and make stuff. I am not a legal guy. When they need me, they tip me well. A business model much like the guys I know that work on exotic cars.

                    I like to choose the stuff I am good at, call in friends that I need ( we reciprocate a lot ), the people I can work with, not compete against, lest I enter the twilight zone and long for "Willoughby". I've had my fill of office politics.

                    Besides, I would never make it through a modern personnel department anymore. It takes a completely different skill to get a job than it does to keep one. The first is marketing, the second is technical. I fail the first.

                    --
                    "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
        • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Thexalon on Saturday July 06, @11:10AM (1 child)

          by Thexalon (636) on Saturday July 06, @11:10AM (#1363279)

          For every unpleasant genius with a vision that does something extraordinary, there are thousands of unpleasant people who think they're a genius driving people to do something extraordinary.

          But also, I think the claim is BS. When you hear about people who have done truly extraordinary things, a lot of them are described as really pleasant people to be around, and those social skills helped them accomplish their goals. For example, by all accounts Dennis Ritchie was a really nice guy to be around, and that's part of what made him an excellent collaborator on software projects, and that's why his code for his own operating system in a language he wrote is still being run well after he died.

          --
          The only thing that stops a bad guy with a compiler is a good guy with a compiler.
          • (Score: 1) by anubi on Monday July 08, @04:27AM

            by anubi (2828) on Monday July 08, @04:27AM (#1363420) Journal

            "When you hear about people who have done truly extraordinary things, a lot of them are described as really pleasant people to be around, and those social skills helped them accomplish their goals. "
            -------------------

            That was also my experience working at that aerospace company. I worked with...er, under, these people who basically booted the company to be a major player... invariably, exactly as you describe, very pleasant people. All of them highly experienced people knowing exactly what we needed to do. We weren't there to compete against each other. We we're there to build something. All of us. It was more like the ,"Barn Raising" country folk would do. Or maybe a "Union Apprenticeship". I had several years of their tutelage in all sorts of the unusual things the company made. The most educational thing for me is they would design something.

            Then Build it.

            It would invariably have a few surprises in it as anything on its first try after birth invariably does. The designer shares all schematics and code. This is what it's supposed to do. Why isn't it doing it? He is now working on the design of another thing in the works. He leaves me with anything I want. The whole team does. First thing we learn is to share expertise. If I don't know ask and someone will show me, conversely if I can help someone else do so!

            So I know both analog and digital pretty well coming from a oilfield/refinery background. I end up with the interface control CPU and display interface boards. Another new guy got the analog boards. Yet another got the digital signal processor board. Just the hardware boards...about 20 of us. Those I mentioned were the two fellow newbies I worked closest with. There were quite a few other people...to find every one of them has a crucial role to play. Any one of us failing to do our thing would make things very hard for everyone else. So we were well incentivized to work together and help each other out. This went for the entire company, everyone. A lot of " management by walking around". I never had to do status reports. My "boss" did all that drudgy paperwork. I didn't envy him his job even though his pay grade was higher. I was just where I wanted to be.

            Being helpful is much appreciated! I want special software written just to exercise some circuit? Somebody would do that for me, as well as teach me how to code it. That's how I learned 68000 assembler and C.

            Now not only can I write little snippets to test parts of my boards, I can also make test jigs and software to help that analog and the DSP guy verify his boards. He had me send frames of data to his boards over and over, and he would see if his boards were acting as expected.

            Of course the software guys were in on this too, as they were constantly verifying their system code. We were always building little test jigs to mimic parts of the big system to exercise individual interfaces.

            I find some miswires. I keep butchering the proto board to implement my discoveries. Highly skilled techs do it, and even show me how they do it... but I had just as soon they do it as it required specialized tools that were some of them's personal property. Tools like dentists use.

            Ok, after a lot of chitchat with the original designer and cohorts, it's now doing exactly what we intended it to do, and I now know everything in my part of the system, and the purpose of every part, every line of code that runs my interfaces. As well as the people who conceived it. I never did quite understand what the DSP guy was doing, but was convinced he did.

            Now I get to go to another guy who's thing is PCB layout on a huge, terribly expensive, PCB layout system, and implement all the updates. We sit side by side. I find it is so easy to design stuff on that machine that's impossible to make! Well, that's why he's in the cockpit, not me. Piece by piece we correct everything in such a manner that when he prepares the PCB manufacturing files ( The Gerbers ), they will accurately tell the machines in PCB fabrication.

            I now send the Gerbers to manufacturing.

            I get the new PCB back. I go over it to make sure that all the changes I did were implemented, and nothing else got changed in the process.

            Ok..send the board and parts list to manufacturing, where they put the parts on ( we had a buyer, almost like a librarian) who kept track of where all the parts are. I got to know him well! )

            I get my board back in a week or so...all populated, plug it in, and now it works. The other people who had other assemblies are doing the same. We had a helluva lot of interaction as we shuffled things around from the proof-of-concept prototype system to the production model prototype "gold cards". Others knew enough about my board to help me, and I knew enough about the boards I am interfacing to , to help others...so we all finished about the same time...within a couple days or so. We get it working. 100 or so of us. Designers. Engineers. Techs. Buyers. PCB guys. Assemblers. The Customer! He has been there all along, as nobody wants to waste a lot of time barking up the wrong tree. The Customer had to justify our time and approvals on our cost-plus financial side...and see for himself what the taxpayers were getting for their dollar. It was quite open to see.

            Everybody is happy with it. Nobody is uneasy about some borderline thing that may cause problems.

            We then had a celebratory party when the customer took delivery if what we made for him.

            Talk about being proud! I was one tiny part of it, and we made a significant product that was highly needed. Things like that is what made what we did worth whatever it took to make it happen. Working with such people made it quite difficult to go on vacation. I was already having the time of my life.

            And that's the way it was.

            I know...got long winded here. But maybe in the future, some business student may dig this up to see an account of what working conditions were like in the 60's to 80's timeframe. It changed, drastically for me. In the 90's when the company adopted competitive merit-based evaluation paradigms, where we tried to individually outshine our fellow team players in lieu of pursuing our dreams of building things.

            --
            "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
      • (Score: 2, Interesting) by khallow on Sunday July 07, @01:17PM

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday July 07, @01:17PM (#1363370) Journal

        Free enterprise has a tendency to cut corners to optimize returns. It operates on statistical curve, and we each will choose a spot on that curve. Some of us play it safe, and don't get anywhere. Some of us take chances, and lose it all.

        The governmental socialist approach removes goads for timely completion, which leads to corruption and things that never get done.

        I think I see the problem, but have no solution for it. Many of the worthwhile things the ancients built spanned generations, and still stand to this day.

        Add in that free market creates a large pool of competent, experienced people while government creates the "only game in town effect" centralization, I don't see the problem. Push off as much as you can on free market - it's clearly better, especially when you consider that some of the actual problems you listed are actually generic problems (like risk taking or cutting corners).

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 06, @01:01AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 06, @01:01AM (#1363242)

    It is not realistic to fully test such a thing.
    You can test the full deployment with a zero-gravity test rig. And you can test the triggering mechanism in thermal vacuum. But apart from the space shuttle thermal vacuum chamber at NASA, it's probably not possible to set up a zero-g rig inside a spacecraft-sized thermal vacuum chamber.
    This is the space industry. The mission is the full test. That's why we have a period called commissioning at the beginning.
    I just hope for OHB's sake that this deployment failure doesn't have the same root cause as that of the first two FOC Galileo satellite back in 2014...

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