MRO Goes Into Safe Mode

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter unexpectedly rebooted its computer Monday morning, Feb. 23, and put itself into a limited-activity mode, an automated safety response to an anomalous event such as a cosmic ray hit on part of the electronics on board the spacecraft. This is the fifth time since August of 2005 that the spacecraft has gone into safe mode. However, the symptoms from this week’s event do not match any of the prior safe-mode events. “We are going to bring the spacecraft back to normal operations, but we are going to do so in a cautious way, treating this national treasure carefully,” said Jim Erickson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project manager for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. “The process will take at least a few days.”

Safe Mode is a precaution programmed for the spacecraft when it senses a condition for which it does not know a more specific response.

MRO engineers are examining possible causes of the event while planning to prepare the spacecraft to resume its scientific investigations of Mars. There has been no reoccurrence of the reboot event.

The spacecraft is in communication with and under control by the flight team. Its batteries are charged and its solar panels are properly generating electricity. The team successfully commanded an increase of more than 10,000-fold in the communication rate Monday afternoon from the rate of 40 bits per second that the orbiter initially adopted when it went into the precautionary “safe” mode.

From the spacecraft data received after communications accelerated, the team gained a preliminary indication that the cause of the reboot might have been a measurement — possibly erroneous — of a brief increase in power load. The event lasted between 200 nanoseconds and 41 seconds. That leads engineers to identify one possible scenario as a cosmic-ray hit that could have caused an erroneous voltage reading that would last 9 microseconds, enough to trigger the reboot.

The reboot occurred at about 4:25 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on Monday, while the orbiter was behind Mars from Earth’s perspective. Engineers hope to have MRO back functioning normally by early next week.

Source: NASA

14 Replies to “MRO Goes Into Safe Mode”

  1. Perhaps a bb or apple seed sized meteor hit the craft, IF this craft used windows 98v3 or millilum or whatever the spelling as I went straight to W2000, then there will be trouble.
    I talked in years past who had millinium and they said it is the s____. Even since, I had no problems with XP or VISTA
    For all I know, they probably used a modified W95 as they required a few years study and testing with ‘hardening’ and other tests with effects not a problem with Earths Atmosphere

  2. i would think that most of these work with linux or Unix versions rather than Windows which is so cumbersome/untrustable in many cases..

    ..i truely wonder what is the operating system???

  3. Let’s be thankful that so much cautionary backup and redundancy has been designed into our spacecraft systems. In the old days a tiny collision like this, and we’d been crying adios amigo.

  4. Guys, dont be ridiculous. Satellites do not use windows/unix based OS. They are lean, simple architectures that are homegrown depending on the bus manufacturer. And all are individually catered to the hardware data handling units.

  5. Oh great! A proprietary OS! What if the “bus manufacturer” goes belly up during the Great Depression of 2009? It’ll be “adios amigos!”

  6. Hapio — Windows my eye — the MRO has Vista on board, and that’s what the team back at base are using, as well. 😉

  7. Come on people, the development methodologies used in spacecraft are fundamentally different from ‘traditional’ PC software…satellites use radiation hardened electronics designed specifically for space use, and fault tolerant operating systems designed specifically for that hardware…deeply embedded OS’s that are nothing like what is used on ‘traditional’ computers… you just cannot compare windows to the software running on these orbiters, they are just too different at an architectural level…the OS software on satellites are more akin to fault tolerant RTOS’s than desktop operating systems.
    Also, being proprietary has nothing to do with the future viability of the spacecraft, no matter what happens to the company that created the software, if it wasnt written in-house. The engineers involved have all the source code used in all parts of the orbiter…its simply not an issue.

    As an example, read the wikipedia articles on the RAD6000 SBC and the articles on radiation hardening itself…..quite interesting stuff…

  8. Thanks, Dave (Are you any relation to the “2001: A Space Odyssey” Dave? ; ), for bringing an insider view of space hardware and their unique, specialized operating systems. Fascinating. Was only injecting a little earthling humor into the discussion as I’ve seen others do. I knew you understood we’re teasing, or did you?

  9. Hmmm… what I find interesting is that the event happened while the MRO was on the opposite side of Mars. Mars doesn’t have a very robust geomagnetic tail, if at all, but CME’s or other solar generated charges may ‘pump up’ whatever magnetic anomolies are present? It might be interesting to attempt to relate the event to known geomagnetic surface features with passing energy from Sol. After all is said and done, many previous Mars missions have had anomolous failures and suddenly enhanced EM disturbances may have produced them, been the culpret?

  10. @ Bonr and Dave

    Of course they don’t run windows! or ANY commercial OS! They design the hardware first (wich is also very different from any we use commonly) and then add the software layer, ver dependent and tighlty packed with the task they are enginereed to perform. And also that software is nothing fancy or sofisticated as a “windows” OS.

    It was meant as a joke! I seriously can’t believe anyone really thinking these rovers and satellites run on Windows XP SP3!!!

    LOL 🙂

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