NASA has just revealed that its Juno spacecraft entered safe mode for unknown reasons. This activity resulted in a complete loss of access to the main computer.
It seems that after the Schiaparelli probe was mysteriously lost on Mars, another spacecraft is in trouble. NASA had revealed that the Juno spacecraft –orbiting Jupiter— has mysteriously lost access to its main computer and science instruments before it was supposed to make an orbital pass near Jupiter.
“At the time safe mode was entered, the spacecraft was more than 13 hours from its closest approach to Jupiter,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
“We were still quite a ways from the planet’s more intense radiation belts and magnetic fields. The spacecraft is healthy, and we are working our standard recovery procedure.”
NASA is unsure what exactly caused the Juno spacecraft to enter safe mode. During a press conference, principal investigator Scott Bolton said the vehicle had “detected a condition that was not expected.”
Whatever happened, it made Juno turn off all its “unnecessary subsystems” — including its science instruments — and position itself toward the Sun to obtain as much power as possible.
The spacecraft entered safe mode after losing access to its computer. NASA revealed that mission specialists plan to reboot the spacecraft’s onboard computer in hopes of bringing the probe back.
High-speed data have been restored, and the spacecraft is carrying out flight software diagnosis. All instruments are off, and the gathering of scientific data scheduled for the second close flyby of Jupiter did not occur.
Strangely, this is the second failure for Juno in a week.
Last week NASA announced that mission control would delay changing the spacecraft’s orbit because two valves in Juno’s engines behaved anomalously.
So far, mission specialists have two massive problems to solve. The first –and perhaps most important one— is to figure out why the spacecraft enters safe mode, and why the engines didn’t work as expected.
Juno reached the Gas giant in July and is planned to study Jupiter for a period of 20 months.
According to statements by Scott Bolton, with the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, Juno’s mission goals are NOT impacted by its orbit, because critical measurements are gathered every time the spacecraft flies near Jupiter.
“The worst-case scenario is I have to be patient and get the science slowly,” said Bolton to reporters during a webcast at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Pasadena, California.