NASA engineers will carry out maintenance of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which is expected to last about two weeks. In the meantime, other orbiters will continue to transmit data on the surface of Mars for the Curiosity Mars rover and the Mars InSight lander. NASA’s ongoing maintenance work includes updating the battery parameters in the orbiter’s flash memory.
In MRO’s 15-year history, this maintenance has only been done twice before. NASA recently determined that the battery parameters in the flash memory may be out of date and, if used, will not be able to charge the MRI to the desired level. In addition to updating battery parameters, engineers will use downtime to update the planetary location tables that are also located in flash memory. As part of the maintenance, the MRO is placed in preventive standby mode (called “safe mode”) three times during the update process. The orbiter also swaps the computers in it from Side-A to a redundant computer called Side-B.
Launched in 2005, the MRO has been orbiting the Red Planet since March 10, 2006. During the execution, the MRO returned 371 terabytes of data. NASA says long-stay spacecraft must prevent failures caused by aging hardware and harsh space environments. The backup computer is one of the redundancies built into NASA’s MRO and other spacecraft to help maintain mission performance in the event of a problem.
To keep both computers up-to-date, the engineer will first update the flash on the Side-A computer and then command it to reboot to ensure that the flash is updated correctly. After confirming the update, the engineer will switch to Side-B and repeat the process. Once the upgrade is complete, MRO will resume its scientific and relay support activities. NASA says the spacecraft will be operational for the next decade after the update is applied.