Science

New Horizons Recovers From Computer Crash; Now ‘Back In Action’

New Horizons spacecraft is back in service after a computer crash, NASA said in a statement. The glitch that first occurred on July 4th threatened the probe’s historic flyby of Pluto on July 14th. On Saturday, New Horizons unexpectedly stopped radio communications with Earth for a whopping 81 minutes, which NASA described as an “anomaly.”

New Horizons Recovers From Computer Crash; Now 'Back In Action'

New Horizons had placed itself in ‘safe mode’

Now it has overcome the glitch, and is on track for a close encounter with the dwarf planet next week. The spacecraft is currently about 3 billion miles away from Earth. Lead researcher Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute said that New Horizons as well as all of its instruments are now “operating flawlessly.” New Horizons project manager Glen Fountain said the spacecraft had placed itself in “safe mode” after experiencing a data collection problem. It caused a temporary loss of communication with Earth.

The spacecraft had stopped collecting data on Saturday afternoon, and then missed scheduled collection periods on Sunday and Monday. Ground controllers had accidentally overloaded the probe’s primary computer, which was trying to compress data to free up some memory while installing the operating sequence for the Pluto flyby simultaneously.

The glitch cost New Horizons 30 observations

The main computer crashed, which in turn triggered a switch to its backup computer. In the process, the spacecraft broke off radio communications and stopped science operations. Since the spacecraft is three billion miles away, it takes about nine hours of round trip lag time to communicate with New Horizons. The lag time further complicated the diagnosis and recovery efforts.

Due to the computer glitch, New Horizons missed 30 planned observations of Pluto and its biggest moon Charon. However, that wouldn’t affect the overall goal of the mission. Glen Fountain said the 30 observations that New Horizons missed accounted for only 1% of the data that it would collect over a 13-day period.