Unexpected software failure froze Curiosity rover

We remind our readers that the Curiosity rover, the creation and shipping of which cost Mars billions of dollars, has been researching the Red Planet since 2012 with the help of a number of tools installed on a six-wheeled platform. Controlling these tools is a rather complicated task; the control system always needs to know what position each of its automated “hands” is in order not to damage it accidentally during movements. And this part is the source of the problem that the rover encountered last week and which led to a complete “freeze”, putting Curiosity in emergency mode.

Actually, the problem is that the on-board computer of the rover due to a software failure on January 20, 2020 accidentally and completely unexpectedly “forgot” the data on the current position of its working tools. This data loss made it impossible for any further movement of the rover and NASA scientists are now struggling to find a solution to the problem that will allow the rover to again obtain data on the position of the instruments and resume work on Mars research.

“Knowing the exact position of any device allows the rover to avoid ridiculous accidents that could harm it. With this information, Curiosity will never catch any part of itself on the rock that it’s passing by and will not point an unprotected camera lens directly to the Sun,” says Don Dawn Sumner, a scientist at the University of California, Davis, “Losing critical position data leads to emergency blocking that makes it impossible to turn on any motor or drive.”

In addition to “freezing” the possibility of movement, the functioning of the remaining systems of the rover was not affected by a software failure, the device continues to transmit data to Earth, based on which NASA scientists are developing a recovery strategy. “Now engineers on Earth are processing all available data, including data for previous periods. This will allow us to calculate the approximate position of all instruments of the rover, the data will be converted to the appropriate format and transmitted to the rover,” says Don Sumner, “in addition, the rover’s computer “programs have been handed over which, as safely as possible for him, will make it possible to clarify the position of the tools, which will allow the rover to continue moving”.

Mars rover tools

In addition to the above, NASA engineers are working to find the source of the software failure and to fix the software on-board computer, which should prevent the possibility of such problems in the future.

In conclusion, we note that some of the measures to restore the efficiency of the Curiosity rover have already been successfully carried out. The rover’s computer received data on the position of the instruments in an amount sufficient to carry out corrective and clarifying operations. And the software of the rover received a number of additional functions with which the rover computer in the future will be able to solve such problems completely independently, without requiring help from the Earth.

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