Return of the Mars Webcam

Editor's note: Today's post contributed by Thomas Ormston and the Mars Express team at ESOC.

The smallest instrument on Mars Express -- VMC (Visual Monitoring Camera), the Mars Webcam -- is finally returning to service following the major anomaly that struck Mars Express at the end of summer 2011.

Mars Webcam image of the Red Planet

Mars as seen - once again - by VMC on 6 May 2012

Although our prime science campaign has been back to 100% of the level of operations from before the anomaly for some months now, we were still working hard on finalising our new operations concept and ensuring that we had safely and efficiently returned to operations. With much of that complete, we managed to focus on how to get VMC working again under the new ops concept and on 6 May we conducted the first test observation since the 2011 anomaly.

We are very proud and excited to have VMC back on the way to normal service and very happy to present the image from the first test observation.

Read on for more details about this image and the return to service of VMC.

An elegant solution – update in ESA web

Some nice news today for VMC fans: the teams at ESOC are getting closer to restoring the VMC back to operation. Imaging stopped, of course, with last autumn's anomaly, the solution of which has kept everyone in the MEX family fully occupied for several months. VMC, being last priority, was not worked on. But we're hopeful that we'll get a solution soon, and we'll post news here as soon as we hear anything.

References to our very own VMC camera activities highlighted - and note very nice comments on teamwork! Click here to read the full report.

While full science operations have now been resumed, a number of tasks remain to be completed. Most important among these is the implementation of an OBCP scheduler. This will enable the spacecraft to operate autonomously for up to a week, compared to the few days that are possible with the current FAST system. Work is also in hand to resume operation of the Visual Monitoring Camera.

Enormous team effort

Completely redesigning the way in which Mars Express is controlled has involved an enormous amount of work for the mission control team at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), assisted by their counterparts at the European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC), PI-teams, other ESA experts and partners in industry. Everyone involved with the mission is extremely grateful for their hard work.

Although the 'Express' in Mars Express highlights that the mission was developed in a short time and with a relatively modest budget, the ability to resume full operations after a very serious failure shows that the resulting design is both robust and flexible.

Mars Express has now been restored to full operational capability and its potential mission lifetime remains unchanged.

Mars Webcam presentation at IAC Prague 2010

Our colleague Thomas Ormston, who leads VMC activities for the Mars Express team here at ESOC, recently presented a paper at the 61st International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Prague, Czech Republic.

The paper, "An Ordinary Camera In An Extraordinary Location: Outreach With The Mars Webcam," covered the history of the VMC project and provided details on camera operations and our results to date in publishing results to this blog. It also described the outreach successes of the project, highlighted some of the contributions from the Mars Webcam community, explained opportunities to use and work with the Mars Webcam and plans for future camera activities.

The paper was the product of a joint effort and made use of input from the entire Mars Express team (thanks guys!) – it's an excellent review of VMC activities to date. You can click on 'Full story' below.

We'd like to thank everyone who attended Thomas' presentation at IAC and, in particular, we'd like to give a big shout out to Beth Beck, who posted the following note in her blog:

"My fav presentation was European Space Agency's Mars WebCam project. You'll just have to check it out. The best example of 'participatory exploration' that I've seen. They turned an unused mission camera back on to take photos of Mars. They offer the data to the public to process. The Mars WebCam folks post the "processed" images back on their site. Quite wonderful. They've created an amazing, enthusiastic community of Mars-watchers, who participate in the mission voluntarily with hundreds of hours of processing time to their credit."

 

Thanks, Beth, for your kind words! – Daniel

Our IAC 2010 paper