Testing in-the-wild is necessary because sometimes all your lab tests go well but when the time comes for the real thing something just goes wrong. That’s what happened with an unmanned cargo spaceship trying out a new “rendezvous antenna.” The ship was detached from the space station for the sole purpose of testing the antenna, but as it turns out, things didn’t go quite as planned. From CNET:
An attempt to re-dock an unmanned Russian Progress supply ship with the International Space Station was aborted by the ship’s flight computer Monday night when a new rendezvous system failed to operate as expected, flight controllers said. …
The Progress M-15M spacecraft was undocked from the station’s Pirs module Sunday afternoon and directed to back away to a distance of about 100 miles. The goal of the exercise was to test a new KURS rendezvous antenna that is designed to replace three antennas currently used by approaching Progress and manned Soyuz spacecraft to “lock on” to space station navigation beacons. …
“Docking was aborted…when the new KURS-NA automatic rendezvous system, which was being tested tonight, was set to be activated,” said Dan Huot, NASA’s mission control commentator. “A failure of an unknown nature occurred and caused the Progress’s on-board computers to self abort and put the spacecraft into a passive abort trajectory.”
Get more details at CNET >>>
This turned out to be a very important test. I’m sure they were expecting everything to work just fine (you don’t just send a very expensive piece of equipment into space when it’s not functioning correctly in your lab-tests). It wasn’t until the new system was tested in the real world conditions of space, approaching from a distance that likely couldn’t be replicated on Earth, that something went wrong.
They’re stilling trying to figure out why the computer aborted the docking, but since there was a failure backup plan everything is safe and they have time to solve the issue. If they hadn’t done this test things could have turned out a lot worse, with critical crafts approaching from Earth unable to dock, or worse, manned crafts encountering a unknown problem. This is what testing in-the-wild is all about.