• Question: What's the main reason spacecrafts dont function properly when in space? St. Colmans N.S.

    Asked by AdamW to Niamh, Ned, Laurence, Colin, Aisling on 1 Mar 2016.
    • Photo: Ned Dwyer

      Ned Dwyer answered on 1 Mar 2016:

      Spacecraft are very complicated . They are controlled by a lot of electronics and computer programmes, and there are lots of sensors, measuring speed, temperature, and other characteristics of the spacecraft. Any of these can stop working, and in space it is not like fixing your car. You can´t simply go there and sort it out in five minutes. Another problem is space dust. In space there are now millions of small fragments from previous spacecraft that have fallen apart and these are flyinng through space extremely fast. If a small particle hits your spacecraft it can damage it and stop it working too.

    • Photo: Laurence O'Rourke

      Laurence O'Rourke answered on 2 Mar 2016:

      Good question but the answer is so wide ranging that I could write for a long time. In general, the main reason a spacecraft has problems is due to failure of something on board. Normally spacecraft have two of everything provided so if something fails then there is always a backup – as Ned says, you can’t just go up to fix it which is why you need to have 2. The reason why it fails could be due to something from outside hitting it (dust like Ned says) or that something got moved/shaken when it was on the rocket or an electrical short in some tiny computer part or indeed a moving part get stucks in a certain position.

    • Photo: Colin Shirran

      Colin Shirran answered on 8 Mar 2016:

      Hi Adam. Spacecraft are very complicated pieces of equipment which are made up of many systems working together to complete the job it is intended for. There are many reasons why a spacecraft may not work, but we try our best to make sure that a spacecraft can go through multiple failures and not affect the mission. In every system there is going to be redundancy built in which will have a separate device or a separate system entirely which will take over completely if the main one fails. There are other scenarios which we cannot control, such as the launcher failing up on launch, or failing to achieve the orbit that the satellite requires. This doesn’t happen very often and we have come very far over the years but unfortunately it can still happen.