LightSail test mission plagued by software glitch

Earlier this month, we talked a bit about the LightSail spacecraft that was going to be launched into space for its first official test. The actual launch of the spacecraft fitted with the SolarSail went off without a hitch and the test craft is now in orbit. That is where things began to go wrong for the team of scientists behind the project. Right now, the LightSail test mission is on hold after a software glitch has left the craft frozen and unresponsive.

The mission started successfully last Wednesday and the LightSail spacecraft spent two days sending 140 data packets back to Earth. After those two days of normal operations, the spacecraft has now encountered a software glitch that caused the automated telemetry chips that were sending data back to Earth to fall silent.

Right now the only way the team has determined they may be able to fix the issue is to reboot the spacecraft. Once the spacecraft is rebooted, the team will try to manually deploy the LightSail. The problem arose in a spreadsheet called becon.csv, which is where the software controlling the main system board of the spacecraft writes data from a telemetry beacon package.

As the size of the file grew to 32MB, it crashed the spacecraft software. The maker of the software used in the spacecraft has patched this issue now, but the version used on LightSail launched without the patch in place. So far, multiple reboot commands have been sent to the LightSail spacecraft and no response has been received. The team now believes that a reboot is the only way to reset the craft and get the mission back on track. At this point, the team is waiting and hoping that the spacecraft will reboot. Data shows that most CubeSats reboot spontaneously in their first handful of weeks in space.

SOURCE: Planetary