Curiosity's computer silent on science, baffling boffins

Robot is 'responsive' but for some reason it can't transmit science data

Since last weekend, an as-yet-undiagnosed glitch in the Mars Curiosity Rover has baffled boffins at NASA.

In an update posted to the mission page, JPL's Ashwin Vasavada wrote that the project team is trying to work out what's preventing the rover from transmitting “much of the science and engineering data stored in its memory”.

All the more puzzling, the post stated the rover remains able to communicate its status: “The rover can transmit 'real-time' data when it links to a relay orbiter or Deep Space Network antenna. These real-time data are transmitting normally, and include various details about the rover's status,” the post added.

That gives engineers the chance to work out what's going on: they're expanding the status details the rover is sending, but it's a slow process: “Because the amount of data coming down is limited, it might take some time for the engineering team to diagnose the problem.”


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The rover's science instruments (see a graphic here that details all the information- acquiring tools on the rover) have been turned off for the time being, since data isn't being stored anyway, and the engineers are considering reverting operations to the rover's backup computer.

That computer was originally the rover's main machine, but back in 2013 it suffered a glitch and the “B” computer took centre stage.

Vasavada wrote: “That backup computer was the rover's primary one until Sol 200, when it experienced both a hardware failure and software issue that have since been addressed.”

(The number of Mars days the rover has operated are referred to as “Sols”; Sol 200 was in February 2013.)

While Curiosity marks time, the science team will look over data collected on the Vera Rubin Ridge, the location the rover visited after scientists applied percussive adjustment to a dodgy drill, to look for rocks that might be suitable for its next drilling run. ®

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