NASA MAVEN returns to work after navigation failure

The failure of the navigation system, which struck the NASA MAVEN orbiter in Mars orbit in early 2022, undermined the spacecraft’s ability to conduct scientific research and study the atmosphere of the Red Planet.

“Safe mode” MAVEN

The MAVEN spacecraft, which has been orbiting Mars since 2014, switched to a protective “safe mode” on February 22, when its inertial measurement units began to show abnormal behavior, NASA representatives said. Being in “safe mode”, the spacecraft turned off all scientific instruments. In the following weeks, the space agency managed to get MAVEN out of “safe mode”, but with limited capabilities. The orbiter is in a stable orbit, and its main antenna is pointed at the Earth to maintain high-speed communication with its mission control team.

The MAVEN spacecraft (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN). Image: NASA/GSSFC

“MAVEN is not capable of relaying communications with other spacecraft on Mars and performs only limited scientific observations,” NASA representatives said.

MAVEN was in “safe mode” until April 19, when controllers switched the spacecraft from an inertial measurement unit (IMU) system to a star tracking system to help the orbiter determine its orientation in space.

“All of MAVEN’s scientific instruments are currently on, but not all of them work properly due to the limited operation of the high gain antenna. The team is currently working on completing the orientation system verification so that the spacecraft can resume scientific and relay operations by the end of May,” NASA said.

About the MAVEN mission

NASA launched the MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) mission in November 2013. The spacecraft arrived in orbit of the Red Planet in October 2014. Its mission is to find out how Mars lost surface water and turned into a dusty and dry world. Last month, NASA extended the MAVEN mission, which originally cost USD 671 million, for another three years to allow the orbiter to continue its scientific work. 

Artistic image of the NASA MAVEN spacecraft orbiting Mars. Image: NASA/GSSFC

In addition to its scientific work, the orbiter also serves as a communications relay for NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers to transmit images and research results from the surface of Mars to Earth.

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