Curiosity rover's recovery moving forward

Mar 12, 2013
This artist concept features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(Phys.org) —NASA's Mars rover Curiosity continues to move forward with assessment and recovery from a memory glitch that affected the rover's A-side computer. Curiosity has two computers that are redundant of one another. The rover is currently operating using the B-side computer, which is operating as expected.

Over the weekend, Curiosity's mission operations team continued testing and assessing the A-side computer's memory.

"These tests have provided us with a great deal of information about the rover's A-side memory," said Jim Erickson, deputy project manager for the Laboratory/Curiosity mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We have been able to store new data in many of the memory locations previously affected and believe more runs will demonstrate more memory is available."

Two software patches, targeting onboard memory allocation and vehicle safing procedures, are likely to be uplinked later this week. After the software patches are installed, the mission team will reassess when to resume full mission operations.

Controllers switched the rover to a redundant onboard computer, the rover's "B-side" computer, on Feb. 28 when the "A-side" computer that the rover had been using demonstrated symptoms of a corrupted memory location. The intentional side swap put the rover, as anticipated, into minimal-activity safe mode. Curiosity exited on Saturday, March 2, and resumed using its high-gain antenna the following day.

The cause for the A-side's memory symptoms remains to be determined.

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QuixoteJ
1 / 5 (2) Mar 12, 2013
Two software patches, targeting onboard memory allocation and vehicle safing procedures, are likely to be uplinked later this week. After the software patches are installed, the mission team will reassess when to resume full mission operations.
Oh dear... they're applying software patches... let's hope they don't ruin the thing.
gwrede
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 12, 2013
Oh dear... they're applying software patches... let's hope they don't ruin the thing.
The rover is not running Windows.
Peteri
5 / 5 (2) Mar 12, 2013
Safety critical systems, such as for aircraft flight control, use triple redundancy - each CPU uses a different hardware architecture and runs software built using a different compiler in order to minimise common mode failures. They also use a majority voting system, such that at least two of the computers have to agree with each other before issuing a command to external systems (e.g. actuators).

I am not sure what redundancy system they are using on Curiosity, but given the huge cost of the mission, you'd think they'd have gone for triple redundancy - even if it meant a slight increase in cost - since with just two computers, the rover is always more vulnerable.
Anda
1 / 5 (2) Mar 12, 2013
What a botched job, indeed...
QuixoteJ
1 / 5 (1) Mar 12, 2013
Oh dear... they're applying software patches... let's hope they don't ruin the thing.
The rover is not running Windows.
I was already fairly certain of that. It definitely shouldn't be. I just think they need to be extremely careful with any "patches" they make to software. Windows would be an extreme case of hyper-patchivity killing a system, but I bet they could do it to the rover too.
hemitite
not rated yet Mar 12, 2013

A JPL scientist from the Curiosity team talked at my U here in So Cal (where I work)last week and answered the question I had about the glacial pace of the rover's work: this project has 400 scientists - and 500 engineers...
baudrunner
2.5 / 5 (2) Mar 12, 2013
I can think of only a few reasons for that memory glitch. Solar flare particle radiation through an unprotected atmosphere or extreme rapid ambient temperature fluctuation come to mind. Quality control..? I doubt it. I still hail the delivery of the rover to the surface as the greatest single feat of space exploration ever accomplished thus far by humankind, eclipsing even the moon landings. I doubt that the scientists missed anything here.
Skyrocket1
not rated yet Mar 13, 2013
Oh dear... they're applying software patches... let's hope they don't ruin the thing.
The rover is not running Windows.
I was already fairly certain of that. It definitely shouldn't be. I just think they need to be extremely careful with any "patches" they make to software. Windows would be an extreme case of hyper-patchivity killing a system, but I bet they could do it to the rover too.


You are obviously not an engineer. This post is not intended as a flame. I am just providing information. Patches on one of a kind systems are common and safe. One of the blocks of memory may have been damaged. If so the patches will remove the damaged block from operation. There will be spare blocks available. One or more of them will be swapped in. The operating code will be the same and just jump around the bad block. It is routine and expected maintenance.
Skyrocket1
not rated yet Mar 13, 2013

A JPL scientist from the Curiosity team talked at my U here in So Cal (where I work)last week and answered the question I had about the glacial pace of the rover's work: this project has 400 scientists - and 500 engineers...


The speed of repairs has nothing to do with bureaucracy. The rover cost hundreds of millions of dollars to land on mars. In the near term is an irreplaceable treasure. More than just the memory may have been damaged. Also the rover is at the end of a very long communication loop that will slow down investigations. Until the engineering team has a handle on the root cause. They will be very very conservative. And rightly so.
QuixoteJ
1 / 5 (1) Mar 18, 2013
You are obviously not an engineer. This post is not intended as a flame. I am just providing information. Patches on one of a kind systems are common and safe. One of the blocks of memory may have been damaged. If so the patches will remove the damaged block from operation. There will be spare blocks available. One or more of them will be swapped in. The operating code will be the same and just jump around the bad block. It is routine and expected maintenance.
Actually I am. Patches on a one-of-a-kind system can be safe as you say, but only if there aren't too many people involved, and the top engineers have the final say. Sounds like there are 400 scientists and 500 engineers...

Incidentally: http://phys.org/n...lem.html

I could be wrong, but I would point my finger at botched software patching first in this case.