Communication Blackout Caused By Sun Put Opportunity Into Standby Mode
April 30, 2013

Opportunity Jumped Into Standby Mode, Back Online Now

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

NASA said its Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity placed itself in standby mode during April when the sun was blocking out communication with the Red Planet and Earth.

The space agency said mission controllers learned of the changed status on April 27, when they first heard from Opportunity after the blocked communication period. Engineers pumped "fresh commands" into the rover on Monday to get it to resume operations.

According to NASA, initial indications suggest the rover sensed something was wrong while doing a routine camera check of the clarity of the atmosphere on April 22.

"Our current suspicion is that Opportunity rebooted its flight software, possibly while the cameras on the mast were imaging the sun," said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif. "We found the rover in a standby state called automode, in which it maintains power balance and communication schedules, but waits for instructions from the ground. We crafted our solar conjunction plan to be resilient to this kind of rover reset, if it were to occur."

The veteran rover has been working on the Red Planet for over nine years now. Curiosity, NASA's newest rover, still has many years to go to reach Opportunity's seniority. This young rover first reached Mars in August last year after completing the "seven minutes of terror" landing. The team in charge of landing the rover received the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum´s highest group honor at a dinner in Washington on April 24.

NASA said Curiosity is nearing the end of its solar conjunction moratorium on commanding. The rover is reported to be coming through the conjunction in full health.

In March, the space agency announced Curiosity discovered hard evidence Mars may have hosted life in its past. The find came after Curiosity drilled out a sedimentary rock on Mars. The powder from this drilling showed the presence of sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon. A primary goal of the Curiosity mission was to establish whether Mars has ever had conditions on its surface suitable for life.

“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA´s Mars Exploration Program at the agency´s headquarters in Washington. “From what we know now, the answer is yes.”

NASA said it plans to send the Curiosity rover its first set of post-conjunction commands on May 1.

NASA said that it received confirmation from Mars on Wednesday that the Opportunity rover is back under ground control, executing a sequence of commands sent by the rover team. According to the space agency, the veteran rove is no longer in standby mode and it has resumed normal operations.