A comment today from Mars Express Spacecraft Operations Manager Michel Denis on this week's report: "MARSIS completes measurement campaign over Martian North Pole." The report gives good news!
"The Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on board Mars Express has recently completed a subsurface sounding campaign over the planet's North Pole. The campaign was interrupted by the suspension of science observations several times between August and October due to safe modes and to anomalies in the operation of the spacecraft's Solid-State Mass Memory (SSMM) system. As MARSIS best observes in the dark, which for the North Pole only occurs every few years, it was among the first instruments to resume observations once a partial work-around for the problems had been implemented."
In his comment below, the 'FAST Method' that Michel refers to is the operations team's newly developed way of uploading commands to Mars Express, which avoids using the problematic Solid State Mass Memory (SSMM) for critical commanding.
The 'File-based Activities on Short Timeline' method essentially means that commands are grouped in very short self-contained files that can be loaded safely, in advance of execution, from the SSMM into an alternative memory unit (that is reliable but not as capacious as the SSMM).
The FAST method - loading short command files upon need into the short onboard mission timeline - was put into use at the end of October 2011 with the (excellent) result that we could save what was remaining of the North Pole observation campaign by the MARSIS radar.
The net loss in data collection was mitigated by using the existing MARSIS command sequences as soon as possible. Meanwhile, as for the other instruments, new MARSIS on-board control procedures (OBCPs) are under development and will allow operation with fewer commands, therefore enabling the operation of several science instruments in parallel.
My main point? We did our job: contrary to widespread received wisdom, the spacecraft operators' role is not to simply watch over (supposedly) boring routine operations during the many long years of a mission - nor simply saving a spacecraft that experiences problems. In fact, we are relied upon to deliver safely as much of the expected (precious) scientific data as possible within the resources available - despite adversity. And that's what we're doing!
This in this morning from Jonathan Schulster on the Mars Express operations team:
The ASPERA (Energetic Neutral Atoms Analyser) instrument high voltage (kV) lines and equipment were successfully switched on today, a few minutes ago at Mars (~09:57 CET), using the new on-board control procedures (OBCP).
These will run for one hour until 10:40CET today and the ASPERA science team will examine the recorded science data before giving the 'go-ahead' for full operations of ASPERA using only OBCP's starting 9 Jan uary 2012.
- Jonathan Schulster
Mars Express Mission Planning & Flight Control Team
Looks like another instrument is set to return to action! -- Daniel
Today's update comes courtesy of Jonathan Schulster, an engineer working on the Mars Express Mission Planning & Flight Control Team. Jonathan's in the Mars Express (MEX) Dedicated Control Room at ESOC this morning, where the first commands to switch on the ASPERA (Energetic Neutral Atoms Analyser) device were sent a few minutes ago. (ASPERA is studying the interaction between the solar wind and the Martian atmosphere.) -- Daniel
To allow the mission to restart operations of all instruments, we needed to write 'macro' on-board control procedures (OBCPs) to replace long sequences of telecommands with single 'start macro' telecommands that would fit into the restrictive memory space provided by the short mission time-line (Basically, all commands now have to be a lot shorter to be stored on board now that the solid state mass memory no longer functions properly - Ed.).
The first OBCPs to switch ASPERA on and off, and its 'high voltage' lines up and down - along with on/off for PFS fourier spectrometer and the start/stop pre-heating for the OMEGA infrared (IR) spectrometer 'scanner' - were uplinked to Mars Express on Monday, 5 December. These must now be flight tested on the spacecraft.
The OMEGA pre-heating test took place on 7 December during a pass over ESA's 35m ground station at Cebreros, Spain, between 08:00 08:30 GMT (09:00-09:30 CET).
Today, Friday, 9 December, also between 08:00-08:30GMT, the ASPERA instrument switch on/off OBCPs were successfully flight tested. :-)
Pierre Choukroun (Standing, Left), Erhard Rabenau (standing, right) and Jonathan Schulster, sitting, in MEX DCR this morning.
Next week we plan to perform a full test of ASPERA with high voltage up/down after confirmation from the science team that the on/off worked fine.