Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter taken out of Safe Mode

Artist concept of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Artist concept of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been taken out of the precautionary “safe mode” it had been in since August. Taking the spacecraft out of safe mode is the latest step in a series of commands that are being sent to the orbiter. Engineers plan to resume science operations once they conclude a check of all the science instruments. Normal science operations may resume mid-December.

The mission flight team has successfully uploaded new software that provided a patch to prevent the orbiter from an unlikely scenario of back-to-back computer resets that could potentially jeopardize the mission.

“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 of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

The flight team began an uplink of some preventive-care files on Monday, November 30, as part of a multi-step process preparing the orbiter to resume its observations of Mars. The spacecraft went into a minimum-activity safe mode on August 26 when it spontaneously reset its onboard computer for the fourth time this year. The orbiter had resumed normal operations within a few days after each of the earlier resets: February 23, June 4, and August 6. After the August 26 event, the team chose to keep the spacecraft in safe mode while investigating possible causes and ramifications of the series of resets.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft has been studying Mars with an advanced set of instruments since 2006. It has returned more data about the planet than all other past and current missions to Mars combined.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft.