Things Are Even Bad in Outerspace

European Space Agency launches two satellites into wrong orbit.  But it is OK, because;

While it is too early to determine the exact causes,” says the CEO of Arianespace, which launched the satellites aboard a modified Soyuz from French Guiana, “we would like to offer our sincere excuses to ESA and the European Commission for this orbital injection that did not meet expectations.

I would like to think English is not the first language of the person who wrote that statement.  It should be “apologies” rather than “excuses” and they should simply offer them rather than saying they would like to offer them.  People copy boilerplate phrases like that they have heard without giving any consideration to what they are actually saying. Here they are basically saying that they are not offering an apology, nor are they offering an excuse, though they would like to offer one… as if something is preventing them from doing such a thing.

The orbital injection did a little more than “not meet expectations.”  It didn’t just disappoint us in some vague way like a movie or a meal that is not quite as good as we thought it would be.  The satellites were put into an elliptical orbit rather than a circular one, which pretty much makes the them useless for their planned application of operating a system similar to our GPS.  It is unknown if the orbits can be corrected.  I am going to take a guess and say there will likely be further disappointments (aside from those involving grammar and composition) which Arianespace will be revealing in the near future.

Closer to home SpaceX lost a test rocket.  This was not as significant a failure since it was during testing and the engineers were pushing the limits on purpose.  That is how us engineers learn.  We break stuff.  Yeah, we try to do as little of that as possible.  But if you want to learn quickly or do something very tricky then you have to break things.  You push them to failure to see where they break.  Most of what we burn up, melt, accidentally arc weld together etc… is never seen outside of the lab.  Some of the better engineers can even tell you what the problem is based on the smell.  But if you are building rockets everyone gets to see the failure, and baby, it is spectacular!  I thank God for small favors in that I never committed an error that my boss would see on the news!

SpaceX owner Elon Musk tweeted what has to be the understatement of the year.

Rockets are tricky.

I would say so.  Apparently they were trying to teach these particular rocket stages to land vertically for reuse.

But sometimes you don’t learn a whole hell of a lot from the disaster because the source is something really, really stupid… like forgetting to check that the bolts were on a payload costing hundreds of million of dollars before you put its base on an incline.


Yeah, that was a bad day.

My understanding is that they checked the paperwork to see if the bolts were still on rather than… checking if the bolts were still on.

I have a post in the “Advice to My Daughter” series that I will eventually write which concerns failure, not being afraid of it, how it is inevitable and how to handle it.  The long and the short of it is that you need to create opportunities for failure to happen early and often so you can learn quickly and reach your potential.  No one ever grows by not being challenged.

But you shouldn’t ever pursue failure for its own sake.  That is what we have a government for.

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