NASA Mars orbiter safe after unplanned computer swap

Mar 12, 2014
This artist's concept shows NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission over the red planet. Credit: NASA/JPL

(Phys.org) —NASA's long-lived Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter put itself into a precautionary safe standby mode March 9 after an unscheduled swap from one main computer to another. The mission's ground team has begun restoring the spacecraft to full operations.

"The is healthy, in communication and fully powered," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Manager Dan Johnston of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We have stepped up the communication data rate, and we plan to have the spacecraft back to full operations within a few days."

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's science observations and its relaying of communications from NASA's two active Mars rovers have been suspended. The rovers continue to use NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter as a communications relay.

Entry into safe mode is the prescribed response by a spacecraft when it detects conditions outside the range of normal expectations. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has experienced unplanned computer swaps triggering safe-mode entry four times previously, most recently in November 2011. The root cause of the previous events has not been determined. The spacecraft has also experienced safe-mode entries that have not involved computer swaps.

Unlike any previous safe-mode entries experienced in this mission, the March 9 event included a swap to a redundant radio transponder on the orbiter. While the mission resumes operations with this transponder, engineers are investigating the status of the one that is now out of service.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter entered orbit around Mars eight years ago, on March 10, 2006. Since then, it has returned more data than all other past and current interplanetary missions combined. The mission met all its science goals in a two-year primary science phase. Three extensions, the latest beginning in 2012, have added to the science returns. The longevity of the mission has given researchers tools to study seasonal and longer-term changes on the Red Planet.

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Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Mar 12, 2014
I hope that there are plans and funds to replace MRO timely. Alternatively extrinsic value of the Mars research program is high enough to *eliminate* the US debt to China on its own.
baudrunner
not rated yet Mar 12, 2014
The MRO does not need replacement. The cameras aboard the MRO are equipped with CCD image sensors providing resolution of up to 1.5 m per pixel from about 300 km up. They are state of the art even today, with 800 megapixel and 160 megapixel cameras. They, in combination with the ESA Mars Express orbiter, have more than satisfied the need to map and examine the surface. What we do need to do is to rethink any future rover missions. All the rovers placed on Mars to date have in total traveled no more than just over 100 km. That seems like a huge expense when seen in that light. Now, we need to send a low altitude Helium-filled dirigible equipped with gigapixel cameras into the Martian atmosphere. We know where to send it.
alfie_null
not rated yet Mar 13, 2014
All the rovers placed on Mars to date have in total traveled no more than just over 100 km. That seems like a huge expense when seen in that light.

If the science objective was to leave tracks over all the surface, I guess we've failed.

Now, we need to send a low altitude Helium-filled dirigible equipped with gigapixel cameras into the Martian atmosphere. We know where to send it.

WE don't know where to send it. Or rather we, as a whole, would not agree. Speaking only for myself (as should you), I'd rather leave that up to scientists who have the background, experience, and are recognized as experts in the field.

Ditto on the greater subject of remote sensing - what we should like to sense, to measure. It's not all about taking pictures. As you well know.
baudrunner
not rated yet Mar 13, 2014
It's mostly about taking pictures. We need to get closer to [search Google Earth->View->Explore->Mars: 6°54'25.50"S 75°16'20.62"W] and we need to get closer to 31° 3'45.81"S 74°15'30.68"E, but we need to stay away from 79°54'8.61"N 166°52'24.37"W, because that may have been one of the deliverers of the Black Death from back in the 14th century.. lots of sightings of UFOs trailing the deadly mists behind them everywhere there was plague.