The Opportunity Rover on the surface of Mars is suffering from memory loss. Scientists on Earth are trying to fix the problem, which may take a few weeks.
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity in July 2003, which landed on the Martian surface in January 2004. Opportunity was initially planned to transmit data to the earth only for three months but it has been doing overtime for the last 10 years.
However, the rover is now showing signs of wear and tear as it is suffering from persistent memory losses. The rover has two types of memory: the volatile RAM and the flash memory. The volatile RAM cannot store a lot of data for a long period of time so it transfers information to the flash memory, which then transmits the data to the Mars Odyssey satellite. It is the flash memory that is creating troubles.
The volatile RAM cannot retain data when the rover is in the sleep-mode that is needed to conserve power. Recently, NASA scientists have discovered that the flash memory is not sending data to the Odyssey satellite once the rover comes out of the sleep-mode.
NASA also reveals that the flash memory has limitations on the number of times data can be written and re-written on it. The rover reboots when it tries to save information on the flash memory. The rover keeps on rebooting if a number of commands are sent to it and forgets all previous instructions.
John Callas, Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains that the flash memory has seven banks and the problem is arising from one particular bank. The 7th bank is causing a data loss, which results in communication glitches.
NASA scientists have now developed a method that will ignore the 7th bank and use the other healthy banks instead. Even though the problem has been identified, it can take a couple of weeks to fix the issue properly.
Callas also revealed that despite the issues arising from the flash memory, the mission can still continue. NASA software engineers will utilize the volatile RAM for the time being to store data temporarily. Once the issue is fixed, data will then get collected and transmitted to the Odyssey satellite via the flash memory.
"While we're operating Opportunity in that mode, we are also working on an approach to make the flash memory usable again," says Callas.
Check out a video of Opportunity's 10 year journey on the Martian surface.