Feeds

Boffins fix dead satellite using 'dirty hack' in space

Eat that, LulzSec

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Engineers and ground controllers at the European Space Agency are overjoyed to announce that they have managed to bring an unexpectedly defunct, critical science satellite orbiting the Earth back to life – by hacking it.

Graphic depicting the Cluster satellite constellation in action. Credit: ESA

Forget user logins, this is real hacking

The satellite in question is known as "Samba", and is one of four sent up in 2000 to carry out specialist analysis of the solar wind. A loss of any of the quartet can be enough to invalidate the data from the others, so when Samba's vital Wave Experiment Consortium (WEC) instrument cluster went down in March, ESA controllers at Darmstadt in Germany were very upset.

"When everything goes as planned, flying a mission can be routine," says ESA's Manfred Warhaut, Head of Mission Operations. "But when unexpected trouble occurs, and there's nothing in the manuals, you really want to have an experienced and talented team on hand to solve the problem."

Warhaut and his fellow satellite experts feared that there had been a paralysing short circuit aboard the spacecraft, but managed to use a piece of dormant software in its computers to find out that in fact all five power switches on the WEC had locked closed – a condition that was considered unrecoverable according to the manual. The satellite simply was not supposed to be able to come back from that situation.

But as all hackers know, most kinds of system can be made to do things they aren't supposed to. The ESA's team managed in the end to hack Samba and get it to fire up its WEC again.

"The solution was based on a 'dirty hack' – jargon referring to any non-standard procedure – but we really had no other option," says Jürgen Volpp, Cluster operations manager.

According to an ESA statement, "Cluster has since returned to normal operation". ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
NASA to reformat Opportunity rover's memory from 125 million miles away
Interplanetary admins will back up data and get to work
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?