The memory of the Mars Rover Opportunity will be formatted

The Mars Rover Opportunity at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility in 2003 (photo NASA/JPL/KSC)
The Mars Rover Opportunity at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility in 2003 (photo NASA/JPL/KSC)

NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity mission control team announced that the rover’s computer flash memory will be formatted. This decision was taken after a series of computer¬† resets that have been occurring with increasing frequency. Every time Opportunity has fully returned to work but those events cause loss of time and interfere with its mission activities so it was deemed necessary to try a permanent solution.

The Mars Rover Opportunity uses a flash memory similar to those used in smartphones and digital cameras to record the data it collects. The individual cells in a flash memory can be corrupted due to a prolonged use but also because due to external causes related to the harsh Martian environment. In the case of Opportunity, which has been on Mars for more than 10 Earth years and a few weeks ago set the record for the distance traveled by a human vehicle in another world, it’s difficult to determine the cause.

Problems of this type already happened in the past in other space missions and even to other rovers. The flash memory of Spirit, Opportunity’s twin, was formatted five years ago to correct some data loss. Last year, even the much newer Mars Rover Curiosity had some problems and in that case probably the cause was in some cosmic ray that hit its computer.

The formatting process is delicate, because at the moment its distance is about 200 million kilometers (about 125 million miles) from Earth, but involves limited risks. All the data in the flash memory of the Mars Rover Opportunity will be downloaded to NASA’s r computers on Earth and when that task is finisched the rover will be placed in a mode that doesn’t use that memory. At that point, they can proceed with the formatting and any corrupted cells will be tagged so that they are no longer used.

Opportunity’s team’s mission is also changing the communication protocol to use a lower transmission rate. This should help to complete the preparation for formatting even in case of further resets. The operation should be carried out in early September.

Despite these problems, at NASA they’re confident they can quickly resume the Mars Rover Opportunity’s normal work. The continuation of the mission isn’t entirely certain due to budgetary issues but at NASA they believe that they can keep on exploring Mars with this rover as well.

[ad name=”eBayUSUKAstronomy”]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *