‘Radiation upset’ confused computers, caused false alarm on International Space Station

Crew Dragon briefly thought its power supply had problems. Also on the ISS: an Ethernet upgrade and missing wastewater


NASA has suggested that radiation caused a computer malfunction on the International Space Station.

Wednesday’s daily station report from the ISS mentioned that the Crew-1 Dragon spacecraft parked at the space station “experienced an unexpected wakeup triggered by false ISS emergency alarms caused by erroneous data from the Dragon 1553 driver in one of the power units.”

ISS crew swapped out a power unit string, rebooted, and returned Dragon to “fully nominal, quiescent operation.”

Which is good news because Crew-1, the first commercial spacecraft to carry crew to the ISS, is essential if crew want to go home.

NASA’s analysis of the incident is a belief it “was caused by a radiation upset with low likelihood of reoccurrence.”

Crew Dragon 1 mission patch

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As explained here, NASA is aware that energy imparted by radiation can flip bits inside computers and make them misbehave. Indeed, the agency also explains how the Hubble Space Telescope’s electronics are impacted by radiation, and relates the story of a ThinkPad 760XD behaving badly on the Space Shuttle back in the day.

NASA’s daily station reports from the International Space Station are often dull enough to destroy dreams of becoming an astronaut, so routine are many of the toilet-cleaning, cargo-hauling and antivirus software updating activities it records.

The Register keeps an eye on it anyway in case of interesting tech-related activities. This week we were rewarded with a two-day epic Ethernet re-cabling adventure of the Joint Station LAN, which appears to be getting new Gigabit-capable cables.

There's also a slightly disturbing update about a "~1-pound decrease in the wastewater tank quantity. Based on this decrease, it is believed there is ~1-pound/day leak within the Cat Reactor." Work is under way to sort out the mess, and the faulty equipment. ®


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