MRO Comes Out of Safe Mode

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The latest word on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is that the spacecraft has successfully come out of safe mode. The various instruments, including the HiRISE camera are still “safed” at this point, and engineers are waiting for acquisition of signal to confirm mapping orientation. MRO spontaneously rebooted its computer on Aug. 26, and since this was the fourth time this type of event had occurred, flight engineers decided to keep the spacecraft in safe mode, and have been working to figure out possible root causes, as well as repercussions if these events were to continue to happen. Several protective files were uploaded to MRO in late November, with hopes of returning the orbiter to its regularly scheduled research and relay activities. Once engineers check out of all the science instruments, normal science operations may resume next week.

“The patient is out of danger but more steps have to be taken to get it back on its feet,” said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Manager Jim Erickson.

Since August, the team worked painstakingly on a plan to ensure the safety and operation of the orbiter. “This process is to bulletproof the spacecraft against a remote vulnerability that our team identified,” said Erickson. “Meanwhile, analysis of possible root causes for the four reboots this year continues as another important part of our path toward resuming science operations.”

The preventive care required amending some data files in the computers’ non-volatile, or “flash” memories where the computers check for default settings when they reboot.

The four reboots involved a device, called the “computer module interface controller,” that controls which of two redundant main computers on the spacecraft is active. Still undetermined is whether trouble lies with that controller itself or with a voltage glitch elsewhere on the spacecraft. The Aug. 6 reboot, though not the other three, prompted a switch from one computer to its backup twin. More than 100 factors are under consideration as possible root causes.

MRO has six instruments on board to examine Mars in detail, from subsurface layers to the top of the atmosphere.

“The precautionary steps we are taking are not driven by the calendar, but by our commitment to care for this valuable national resource,” Erickson said. “We are all eager to have science observations resume as soon as a properly cautious process allows.”

Amazing and Marvelous Mars Dunes

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I see the Bad Astronomer has beat me to the punch by posting this image before I could. But what an amazing and gorgeous image of dunes on Mars! However, my initial thought when I saw this on the HiRISE webpage was perhaps this was the first long-awaited look at Phil’s tattoo. Seriously, doesn’t this look like it could be body art? The dunes even have a Phil-like flesh color. But this wonderful image was taken by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. There is a great database of dune images gathered for the US Geological Survey on the HiRISE website, and below, take a gander at more lovely dune images:

Click on each image to learn more from the HiRISE website.

More Martian dunes from HiRISE.
More Martian dunes from HiRISE.
Russell Crater dunes. Credit: Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Russell Crater dunes. Credit: Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Dunes in the Western Nereidum Montes. Credit: NASA/JPL University of Arizona
Dunes in the Western Nereidum Montes. Credit: NASA/JPL University of Arizona
Sand dunes. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Sand dunes. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Dark dunes.  Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Dark dunes. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Check out the HiRISE website for more great images from Mars!

HiRISE Highlights: Crater Within a Crater, Awesome View of Victoria and More

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I was just thinking it had been awhile since we featured images from the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, so I moseyed over to the HiRISE website only to be blown away by their newest releases. This incredible crater in Meridiani Planum shows a possible double whammy of impacts. It looks as though material filled in the original crater only to be blown out a second time. Another option is that the material in the crater could have collapsed, giving the appearance of a second impact. You can bet the HiRISE team will be looking more closely at this one. Before we move on to more great images, an update on MRO, which unexpectedly went into “safe” mode last week: MRO has now been restored to full operations, after switching to its backup computer. Engineers successfully transitioned the orbiter out of limited-activity “safe” mode on Saturday, Aug. 8, and resumed use of the spacecraft’s science instruments on Monday, Aug. 10. This has happened a few times, and engineers are trying to figure out the root cause of this.

Now, on to the images!
Continue reading “HiRISE Highlights: Crater Within a Crater, Awesome View of Victoria and More”