Why is NASA's Mars orbiter currently non-operational? Agency explains important update

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken a break from its mission due to important maintenance procedures

NASA announced that it's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is currently non-operational and taking a break from the mission on the Red Planet. According to the agency, the orbiter's various systems are currently being updated in order to improve their operations. NASA officially launched the MRO in 2005. Since then, it has been orbiting the Red Planet to collect information regarding its environmental conditions.

Temporarily Shutting Off The MRO

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
This artist's concept shows NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter over the red planet. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Earlier this week, NASA announced that the MRO would temporarily go offline due to a maintenance procedure. According to the agency, the procedure began on February 17 and will last until February 29. NASA confirmed that the MRO would not be able to carry out its objectives during this period. The maintenance work on the MRO involves updating the battery parameters of the orbiter's flash memory. As noted by NASA, the latest procedure marks the second time that the MRO's battery parameters were updated since its launch.

The agency explained that the update is important for the MRO as it will enable its batteries to reach the appropriate level of charging. "This special update is necessary because it was recently determined that the battery parameters in flash were out of date and if used, would not charge MRO's batteries to the desired levels," NASA explained in a statement.

Curiosity rover
Photo of the Curiosity rover taken by the MRO. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Updating The MRO's Computer Systems

Aside from the battery parameters, NASA's engineers will also conduct updates on the MRO's onboard computers to ensure that they are working properly and to prevent its flash memory from getting corrupted. According to NASA, the MRO has a set of redundant computer systems that it uses when it encounters technical issues.

The agency has to ensure that the operating system of these computers are up-to-date to ensure that the spacecraft can still function properly whenever it switches from one computer to the other. NASA noted that the new updates would enable the MRO to continue operating until the next decade.

"Whenever a spacecraft detects a technical issue, there's a series of actions it can take, including swapping to a redundant side of its electronics or rebooting its computer," NASA explained. "Success in those cases depends upon restoring an uncorrupted, up-to-date version of an operating system with its parameter files from flash memory. To guard against corruption of the flash memory itself, multiple copies of essential parameters are stored onboard."

Related topics : Nasa Space