The computer processor aboard the NASA Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) experienced a small glitch about three days after the mission launched. Now, scientists say that they were able to figure out what went wrong, and correct the error. The event is unlikely to cause any damages or delays to the mission.
The MSL is a flagship endeavor for NASA. The spacecraft carries the nuclear-powered rover Curiosity, which is scheduled to search Mars for possible signs of life. Its goal is not to establish whether life exists there today, but rather see whether conditions have ever been appropriate to support life.
Curiosity was launched on November 26, 2011, from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), in Florida. It took to the skies aboard an Atlas V rocket. Three days later, on November 29, a limited computer reset occurred on the spacecraft.
Mission controllers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL), in Pasadena, California, began investigating the issue right away. They've just announced that the root cause of the issue has been identified, and that the computers should now be working fine.
“Good detective work on understanding why the reset occurred has yielded a way to prevent it from occurring again. The successful resolution of this problem was the outcome of productive teamwork by engineers at the computer manufacturer and JPL,” Richard Cook explains.
The JPL expert is the deputy project manager for the MSL. An unknown “design idiosyncrasy in the memory management unit of the Mars Science Laboratory computer process” was found to be responsible for the reset, a JPL statement announces.
In order to address this issue, experts changed the way in which MSL's computer processors configured certain registers. The latter are locations in the spacecraft's memory, where certain data are stored.
After the source of the issue was identified, the JPL team was able to put together an update program, which they recently uploaded into the MSL mainframe. They say that the register issue has now been taken care of, without any problems.