Curiosity stops transmitting science data

An unknown glitch in NASA's Curiosity rover is preventing the Martian explorer from transmitting data back to Earth.

Curiosity-self-portrait

Curiosity’s self-portrait, having successfully landed on Mars’s Gale crater on 6 August 2012 © NASA

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NASA’s Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars is out of operation after a glitch stopped it transmitting information back to Earth, the agency announced today (19 September).

With the Opportunity Martian rover also off-line, there are currently no working rovers on the surface of Mars.

Curiosity’s fault was discovered by mission operators on 15 September.

An as yet unknown issue is preventing the rover from storing or transmitting science and engineering data.

However, the rover is still transmitting ‘real-time’ data, including information that shows that Curiosity is otherwise operating smoothly.

As the rover can still take commands from Earth, mission planners have ordered it to shut down its science experiments while they sort out the problem.

Even if the Curiosity engineers cannot solve the issue with the rover’s current primary computer, they can switch over to its back up computer.

There is some trepidation about doing so, however, as this second computer has previously suffered both hardware and software issues, though these have since been resolved.

The news comes at a particularly bad time as NASA lost contact with their other Martian rover, Opportunity, on 10 June when a dust storm prevented its solar panels from charging.

NASA are currently waiting to hear back from Opportunity now that the dust has cleared.

The rover has 45 days from 31 August to respond before the agency stop actively listening.

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While NASA is hopeful of re-establishing contact with both rovers, it could be about to get a lot quieter on the surface of Mars.