Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter comes out of safe mode

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On February 23 the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) engineering team was able to bring the spacecraft out of safe mode, after a low battery voltage reading caused it to shut down.

Mission team members brought MRO out of safe mode on Friday (Feb. 23), NASA officials said. The orbiter seems to be in good health overall; the battery voltage is back to normal, MRO is communicating with Earth, and temperatures and power levels are stable, agency officials said.

But MRO’s handlers haven’t put the orbiter back to work yet. “We’re in the diagnostic stage, to better understand the behavior of the batteries and ways to give ourselves more options for managing them in the future,” MRO project manager Dan Johnston, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. “We will restore MRO’s service as a relay for other missions as soon as we can do so with confidence in spacecraft safety — likely in about one week. After that, we will resume science observations.”

Overall this sounds like very good news.



  • Kirk

    MRO has one of the two penetrating radars in orbit around Mars, the other being on Mars Express. Bob, do you know if either have imaged Valles Marineris and if they would have the ability to detect the huge amounts of ice claimed to be there in this 2013 Geomorphology paper? One million cubic kilometers of fossil ice in Valles Marineris: Relicts of a 3.5 Gy old
    glacial landsystem along the Martian equator —

  • Kirk: I don’t have a direct answer to your question. Recently however I read this paper, Geomorphological Evidence for Shallow Ice in the Southern Hemisphere of Mars, which suggested to me that the Mars planetary community has accepted the existence of what they call an “ice table” on Mars, vs a water table here on Earth. They think it disappears in the lower latitudes, and the paper was an effort to map its closest position to the equator.

  • Kirk

    Thanks for that link Bob.

    The 2013 Geomorphology paper seems almost too good to be true, so it’s strange that I can’t find any critique — positive or negative — of it. Anyone interested in the question of water on Mars should give it a look. The researchers claim that Valles Marineris, a rift valley, shows extensive signs of glaciation in the past, and that once the period of active glaciation was over, a huge amount of fossil ice was left behind covered in debris — both wind blown and ablation till. The shape of the ablation till along the sides of the canyons suggests that 0.3 million km^3 of that ice has sublimated, but that up to 1.0 million km^3 remain. That’s as much ice as is in a Martian polar cap, or 40% that of the Greenland ice sheet, or the equivalent water of ten times all the fresh water in rivers and lakes on Earth. That is a huge amount of ice to be so near the equator.

    I recently asked Pascal Lee (planetary scientist at the SETI Institute, chairman of the Mars Institute, and director of the NASA Haughton-Mars Project at NASA Ames) about it, and while he had not heard of the paper before, he said he wasn’t at all surprised because “there is a lot of water ice on Mars.” He also pointed out that his contribution to NASA’s 50 candidate landing spots for the first human Mars expedition is in Valles Marineris.

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