Feeds

Computer crash threatens Martian photo-op

Reboot! Reboot!

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

NASA has been forced to switch off the scientific instruments on board its Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft, just a week before the photo opportunity of a lifetime.

Mission managers are hoping to get the craft up and running again in time for a fly by of the suspected crash site of the Mars Polar Lander, a US mission to the red planet that was lost in 1999. They will not have the opportunity to fly over the site again for two years, the BBC reports.

But the lander, thought to have crashed reasonably near the pole, is not in sunlight for very long. After 10 September, the region will be plunged into darkness, making it impossible to photograph from orbit.

Pictures of the site are important because elements of the 1999 mission have been recycled for Phoenix, a new Mars mission scheduled to launch in 2007. Images of the crash could help engineers decide whether or not to modify any of the systems for the 2007 flight.

The MGS had to be put into safe-mode after it started to switch between its main onboard computer and its backup for no apparent reason.

Safe mode switches off the scientific instruments, and turns the craft so that its solar panels directly face the sun, for maximum battery recharging. It also limits its communication with Earth to that possible with its low gain antenna.

NASA says that the MGS unexpectedly switched to its back-up computer on 30 July. The main computer was rebooted, but left in safe mode and the back-up machine was left in charge. In late August, it switched back to the main computer, again without warning. This plunged the whole craft into safe mode, and engineers have been working to restore normal function since then.

Both computers have now been rebooted, and the back-up machine is running in contingency mode. The engineers hope to have the main computer into contingency mode soon too, which will switch communications back to the main antenna.

"It's getting to be a fairly old spacecraft and it's been having a number of issues; none of them are considered life-threatening," Professor Phil Christensen, principal investigator on MGS's thermal emission spectrometer instrument told the BBC. "The spacecraft's operating fine; they can command and communicate with it. The poor engineers will work hard over the weekend and we'll be back on track early next week."

The MGS mission was originally designed to run until January 2001. ®

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.