Artist's concept of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Mars Orbiter in Hiatus After Computer Swap

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, observing the surface of Mars since 2006, made an unplanned switch on Wednesday from one main computer to another redundant one onboard, affecting few functions for several weeks, said NASA.

The hiatus in planned activities due to the computer swap is expected for a few days, affecting communication relays and science observations.

The Mars Reconnaissance OrbiterIn the past too, the orbiter experienced similar unplanned computer swap six times since 2007 and two times in 2014.

“We never quite know when it’s going to happen, but we know what to do when it does,” said Reid Thomas, manager for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Shifts between the spacecraft’s redundant “Side A” and “Side B” main computers leave a clear signal to the mission on Earth to send commands to restore the orbiter to full operations. The latest swap put the spacecraft onto the Side B computer.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter entered orbit around the Red Planet on March 10, 2006. Since then, it has returned dta worth 249 terabits.

The orbiter is currently examining possible landing sites for future missions to Mars. As shown in the picture above, the artist’s concept of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter features the spacecraft’s main bus facing down, toward the red planet. The large silver circular feature above the spacecraft bus is the high-gain antenna, the spacecraft’s main means of communicating with both Earth and other spacecraft.

The long, thin pole behind the bus is the SHARAD antenna. Seeking liquid or frozen water, SHARAD will probe the subsurface using radar waves at a 15-25 MHz frequency band, “seeing” in the first few hundreds of feet (up to 1 kilometer) of Mars’ crust. The large instrument (covered in black thermal blanketing) in the center is the HiRISE camera. This powerful camera will provide the highest-resolution images from orbit to date.

The other easily visible instruments are: the Electra telecommunications package which is the gold-colored instrument directly left of the HiRISE camera. It will act as a communications relay and navigation aid for Mars spacecraft. To the right of the HiRISE camera is the Context Imager (CTX).

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