Curiosity rover, the NASA vehicle trundling over the surface of Mars sending back valuable data, has stopped transmitting much of the scientific and engineering data stored in its memory, even though it would appear to be responsive and functioning normally.
According to NASA engineers, the communications issue surfaced on Saturday night while Curiosity rover was running through its ‘weekend plan'. That plan had involved drilling into the surface of Mars at ‘Inverness', on the Vera Rubin Ridge of Mars. However, the rover was able to drill no more than four millimetres into the surface before that attempt had to be abandoned.
"Before driving off, we wrapped up at the Inverness site with APXS [Curiosity rover's Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer] and ChemCam spectral measurements to characterise the composition of the drill tailings and the mini drill hole. We additionally targeted ‘Clune', a grey Jura bedrock, with ChemCam to continue our documentation of compositional heterogeneities in bedrock," NASA reported on Sunday.
While the rover is transmitting real-time data when it can link to a relay orbiter or the Deep Space Network antenna, it doesn't appear to be disgorging the scientific data that it has picked up.
In response, NASA scientists have switched off the rover's scientific instruments in order to make sure that all available bandwidth can carry diagnostic data back to base - and new instructions to Curiosity rover.
Scientist are also preparing to use the rover's backup computer in case they need to use it to diagnose the primary computer, NASA revealed.
It continued: "While the engineers work to understand the problem, Curiosity's science team is using the time to pore over data gathered on Vera Rubin Ridge and come up with the best location for another drilling attempt. We're looking at any clues that tell us the rocks are weaker and better for drilling."
Curiosity rover missed the worst of the recent dust storm that, at one point, enveloped the planet over the summer. First detected on 30 May, the storm lasted until at least the end of August. Even now, the dust hasn't finished settling.
Curiosity's sister rover, Opportunity rover, went into shut down due to the Martian dust storm. This was whipped up not far from where Opportunity had been roving in Perseverance Valley. With the atmosphere blocking out sunlight, the rover was unable to recharge its batteries.
While the dust storm started to abate towards the end of August, the status of Opportunity rover is still unclear.
The last missive about Opportunity rover from NASA was on 11 September, which suggested that the sky had cleared sufficiently above 14-year-old Opportunity rover to enable its batteries to start re-charging.
"With more sunlight reaching the rover's solar array, the Opportunity team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are increasing the frequency of commands it beams to the 14-plus-year-old rover via the dishes of NASA's Deep Space Network from three times a week to multiple times per day," reported NASA on 11 September.
It continued: "Passive listening for Opportunity will also continue to be performed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Radio Science Group, which records radio signals emanating from Mars with a very sensitive broadband receiver."
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