Earlier this year, the orbiter MAVEN or NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN has been affected by a bug which prevents him from continuing his scientific missions. According to an update published by NASA on May 18, the device entered safe mode on February 22 when its inertial measurement units began to behave abnormally. In this mode, the orbiter shuts down all of its science instruments and awaits instructions on how to recover.
In the weeks since entering safe modethe NASA team was able to revive the device, but its capabilities were limited. However, MAVEN is known to follow a stable orbit and its main antenna is pointed towards the Earth to maintain high-speed communication with the control center. According to NASA, this configuration does not allow the orbiter to serve as a communications relay to other devices including rovers Curiosity and Perseverance. The scientific observations that can be performed are also limited. On April 20, the team began restoring the scientific instruments.
NASA launched MAVEN in November 2013 and the orbiter reached the Red Planet in October 2014. Its main mission is to study how mars lost its surface water to become the dusty planet it is now. Last month, the space agency added three years to the orbiter’s mission, which had an initial budget of around 625 million euros.
MAVEN’s navigation system
To orient itself in space, the MAVEN orbiter uses its system IMU or Inertial Measurement Unit. The latter is based on ring laser gyroscopes that detect the inertial movements of the spacecraft, and four reaction wheels that steer the orbiter. In addition to this system, MAVEN is also equipped with two star tracking cameras which can capture images of them. These images are analyzed by an algorithm which will determine the orientation in space.
According to NASA officials, MAVEN was in safe mode until April 19. At that time, engineers switched the craft from using the IMU to using the camera system. This is the mode “all stellar”.
The current state of MAVEN
According to the update released by NASA, all MAVEN science instruments are currently online. However, not all of them can collect data when the main antenna is pointed only at Earth.
The orbiter team is now in the process of complete all-stellar mode checks to allow the orbiter to operate in other orientations. This will need to be done before returning to science missions and communications relay operations towards the end of the month.