The daily chatter between the antennas here on Earth and those on the NASA spacecraft on Mars will be much quieter for a few weeks.
This is because Mars and Earth are on opposite sides of the Sun, a period known as Mars solar conjunction. The sun ejects hot, ionized gas from its corona, which extends far into space. During solar conjunction, this gas can interfere with radio signals as engineers try to communicate with spacecraft on Mars, corrupting orders, and leading to unexpected behavior by our space explorers.
To be sure, engineers stop sending commands when Mars disappears far enough behind the sun's crown that the risk of radio interference increases.
"It's that time again," said Roy Gladden, manager of the Mars Relay Network at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Our engineers have been preparing our spacecraft for months on the compound, they will still collect scientific data on Mars, and some will try to send that data home, but we do not order the spacecraft out of fear that they could act. " on a corrupt command.
When does this happen?
Solar conjunction occurs every two years This time, the waiting period for issuing commands known as the "Commands Moratorium" expires on August 28 until September 7, 201
What happens to the spaceship?
Although some instruments aboard spaceships – especially cameras, the generate large amounts of data – be inactive, all NASA Mars spacecraft will continue their research, they simply have much simpler "to-do" lists than they would normally do.
On the Martian surface, the Curiosity Rover stops the journey, while the InSight lander does not move its robotic arm, above Mars, both the Odyssey orbiter and the Mars Reconnaissance orbiter will continue to collect data from Curiosity and InSight to return to earth. However, only Odyssey will attempt to pass this data to Earth before the conjunction ends. In the meantime, another orbiter, MAVEN, continues to collect its own scientific data, but does not support relay operations during that time.
All this means that the stream of raw images available from Curiosity is temporarily interrupted, InSight and the other Mars missions. The Mars solar conjunction affects the operation of all spacecraft currently on Mars, not just NASA.
What happens when the solar conjunction ends?
Once the conjunction is completed, the spacecraft transmits the collected data to NASA's Deep Space Network, a JPL-managed system of massive terrestrial radio antennas. Engineers will spend about a week downloading the information before resuming normal spacecraft operation.
If the teams monitoring these missions find that the collected scientific data is corrupted, they can usually retransmit that data after the moratorium on September 7th.
Blaming the sun for the moratorium on sending orders to Mars
What is Mars Sun conjunction and why is it important? (2019, 24th of August)
retrieved on August 24, 2019
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