NASA's Mars Orbiter Suddenly Switches to Precautionary Standby Mode

Sunday, 18 February 2018 - 2:15PM
Space
Mars
NASA
Sunday, 18 February 2018 - 2:15PM
NASA's Mars Orbiter Suddenly Switches to Precautionary Standby Mode
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NASA/JPL
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe hasn't had an easy time as of late.

The MRO has spent the past decade living up to its name, as it orbited around Mars taking more photos of the Red Planet than any of the rovers wandering around on the surface. But NASA recently had to teach the probe star charts so it could navigate by stars after some broken gyroscopes messed up its existing navigation system, and over this weekend, it was unexpectedly forced into standby mode.

The standby mode was activated after the probe sensed a low battery voltage. NASA is still in communication with the rover, which is good news considering they've lost other probes and satellites due to similar situations, and normal voltage seems to have been restored, but the probe's science functions have been suspended until the troubleshooting is finished - essentially, it's on sick leave and still on watch until it's confirmed healthy again.



The probe is mostly solar-powered, but it has to switch to a pair of nickel-hydrogen batteries whenever it enters the shadow of Mars and can't access any sunlight. NASA tries to keep both equally charged at all times, but there appears to have been an error at some point, which is what NASA is investigating.

According to MRO Project Manager Dan Johnston of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who said the following in a press release:

Opening quote
"We're in the diagnostic stage, to better understand the behavior of the batteries and ways to give ourselves more options for managing them in the future. We will restore MRO's service as a relay for other missions as soon as we can do so with confidence in spacecraft safety - likely in about one week. After that, we will resume science observations."
Closing quote




It only took about two years for the MRO to complete its primary goals after reaching Mars in 2006, but its mission has been extended a number of times, since it's an invaluable tool for taking photos as well as transmitting data from the many rovers like Curiosity and Opportunity back to Earth.

While the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is expected to resume normal functions pretty soon, this was a bit of a scare suggesting the probe's age might finally be catching up to it.

But it still has a ways to go, for the time being.
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