Feeds

IT crowd sorts out the Mars Science Lab

Boffins manage to fix spacecraft's computer problems

Application security programs and practises

US space boffins have managed to sort out the computer problems on the Mars Science Laboratory, currently tootling through space with the spanking-new rover Curiosity on its way to the Red Planet.

The MSL's celestial navigation system was has been out of action since 29 November last year, three days after its launch, because of a computer reset. When the craft turned on its star-scanning software, it somehow knocked the system offline, but fall-back systems were able to keep the MSL on track so far.

NASA said a "previously unknown design idiosyncrasy" in the memory banks of the MSL's computer process caused the glitch in the system.

"In rare sets of circumstances unique to how this mission uses the processor, cache access errors could occur, resulting in instructions not being executed properly," the agency said in a canned statement.

To fix the problem, the boffins whizzed up a software update that changed how the registers in the memory management of the chip were configured.

"Good detective work on understanding why the reset occurred has yielded a way to prevent it from occurring again," said deputy project manager Richard Cook. "The successful resolution of this problem was the outcome of productive teamwork by engineers at the computer manufacturer and Jet Propulsion Laboratory."

The spacecraft is back to using its star tracker and celestial navigation system this week, to pinpoint the designated zone to land and send the nuclear-powered robot laser truck, or rover, Curiosity on its way.

Meanwhile, up at the Red Planet, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted (see below) the landing platform that the old rover Spirit first rolled off in 2004.

Spirit's landing platform has been spotted - bottom left hand side of the pic, circled in red. (click to enlarge)

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on the orbiter snapped the shot in January, the first colour image that has featured a bit of NASA tech. It has also spied out the Phoenix lander which set down near the red planet's north pole, and detected snow there for the first time.

Both Phoenix and Spirit are now sadly out of commission, although both exceeded their planned mission life. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.