NASA said on Wednesday that a UHF radio on the Mars Reconnaissance orbiter turned off Tuesday, preventing it from relaying commands to begin to unfurl its 8-foot robotic arm.
Mission leaders said the incident caused a one-day delay in preparations for getting the spacecraft ready to begin its key scientific experimentation: digging up icy soil samples for testing from its geographical location in Mars’ northern arctic region.
Phoenix, the latest spacecraft on Mars, communicates to Earth through two NASA orbiters circling the planet.
One of them, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, turned its radio off on Tuesday, possibly due to a cosmic ray, said Fuk Li, manager of the Mars exploration programme for Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“All this is a one-day hiccup in being able to move the arm around, so it’s no big deal,” said Ed Sedivy, Phoenix program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems.
Even with the glitch fixed, JPL spokeswoman Veronica McGregor said the second orbiter, the Mars Odyssey, would be used on Wednesday to send commands to Phoenix during its morning orbital pass. It will tell the lander to begin unstowing its robotic arm.
Since landing on Mars on Sunday, Phoenix has delighted scientists with the first peek of the planet’s unexplored northern latitudes. The terrain where Phoenix settled is relatively flat with polygon-shaped patterns in the ground likely caused by the expansion and contraction of underground ice.