Mars Rover Opportunity, one of the set of two Mars Rovers that have been exploring the planet since 2004, has been suffering a memory glitch after a reset last week. Luckily, NASA engineers believe they may have found a solution to the problem.
Following the most recent reformatting of Opportunity’s flash memory, the performance of the flash memory became intermittent, and difficulty in putting data into the memory led to several computer resets over the Christmas weekend.
NASA’s fix for for the Mars Rover’s flash memory problem
NASA’s Mars Rover technical team is developing new program commands to try and reset the faulty flash memory through a more major overhaul than the earlier reformatting. Fortunately, the incidents with the flash memory have occurred in only one of the seven banks of flash chips. The is to send commands to the rover to not use that entire bank.
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“The mission can continue without storing data to flash memory, and instead store data in volatile RAM,” noted Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas. “While we’re operating Opportunity in that mode, we are also working on an approach to make the flash memory usable again. We will be sure to give this approach exhaustive reviews before implementing those changes on the rover.”
Mars Rover Opportunity’s mission
The Mars Rover Opportunity’s current mission is studying outcrops on the western rim of Endeavour Crater while heading south toward “Marathon Valley,” where clay-like minerals were spotted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Project landed the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity on Mars back in 2004 with three month initial missions. Spirit continued to function for six years, and Opportunity is still actively exploring the Red Planet.
Both rovers produced valuable data about ancient wet environments on Mars. The project is one element of NASA’s ongoing and future Mars missions preparing for a human mission to the planet in the 2030s, including the current Mars Rover Curiosity which landed in 2012.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, has been hired by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington to manage the Mars Rover project.