Mars Express is good to go

A tired but very happy Mars Express flight control team pulled shift through the night between 16 and 17 April, overseeing the successful reboot and recovery of ESA’s nearly 15-year-old Red Planet explorer following the installation of significant updates to the spacecraft’s operating system.

One online media channel, following the event via Twitter, reported: “The team behind the European Space Agency’s Mars Express were cock-a-hoop with delight last night after hitting the big red button to restart and install updates on the veteran orbiter.”

It’s true. We were!

Just like when your smartphone or tablet receives new software to improve its functionality and extend its life, Mars Express got an upgrade to enable it to keep flying despite the fact that several critical components (ring-laser gyros) are wearing out (see Mars Express V2.0 for details).

But unlike with your phone or tablet, this update was delivered across 144.6 million km of space.

There was a bit of tension in the Interplanetary Control Room at ESOC last night, especially between sending the reboot command at 19:15 CEST and waiting for the craft to restart and send a signal about an hour later.

Spacecraft operations engineers are naturally risk averse and prone to pessimism, and – rightly so – they hate just hanging around waiting for a possibly recalcitrant spacecraft to do what it’s been told.

But, if you followed @esaoperations via Twitter, you’ll know the expected signal came in around 20:15 CEST and the initial results were entirely good, which is to say, entirely as expected:

The update from the team today confirms their initial reaction: the spacecraft is doing well and the newly updated software is working more or less as expected.

“Everything went according to plan with only minor issues,” says Spacecraft Operations Manager James Godfrey.

“Today, the team on shift is concentrating on reconfiguring the spacecraft into normal operating mode, testing functionalities and checking to see if anything fails to work with the new software.”

This testing and shakeout will continue for the next approximately 7 to 8 days, and the team expect to be able to switch the science instruments back on and return to routine observations by the end of April.

“Everyone at ESA did an excellent job in this entire upgrade effort,” says ESA Flight Director Michel Denis.

“It took a lot of work and coordination by the flight controllers, assisted by experts from flight dynamics, ground stations and software support as well as by our colleagues working on the Mars Express Science Operations team.”

“We have a spacecraft in excellent shape and promising many more years of exploration at Mars.”

Comments

1 Comment

  • Amsel says:

    Are questions permitted? How did Mars Express control its attitude during the one-hour reboot phase? Thanks.

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