A detailed status update on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

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Link here. The orbiter, which continues to send down spectacular images while acting as a workhorse communications relay for the rovers on the ground, appears to be in reasonable shape. It has enough fuel to operate into the late 2020s. The other known problems appear manageable.

Zurek said the most significant technical issue aboard MRO is in one of the spacecraft’s inertial measurement units used to determine the orbiter’s motion and orientation. Zurek said a laser inside one of the unit’s gyroscopes is showing signs of aging, and ground controllers are trying to coax the sensor along by switching to an identical backup unit.

In the meantime, engineers are working on changing the orbiter’s navigation logic to rely on star trackers in case both navigation sensors go down, Zurek said. One of the gimbals used to point MRO’s power-generating solar panels toward the sun is also sticky, a sign of age-related “arthritis” aboard the spacecraft, Zurek said.

MRO also abruptly switches to its backup “B side” computer on occasion, temporarily interrupting scientific observations for a few days each time. Zurek said the orbiter’s ground team has learned to deal with the problem, which has escaped diagnosis with a root cause.

Of course, there are always the unknown problems that haven’t yet popped up that could be devastating. Let us hope none appear soon, since NASA will not be able to send a replacement until 2022, at the earliest.

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