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Sun block: NASA to lose contact with Mars missions during week-long solar event

July 15, 2017 4:02 PM
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The blackout, which will take place from July 22 to August 1, means NASA will not send send commands to its three Mars orbiters and two Mars rovers for fear that its instructions could be misinterpreted.

"Out of caution, we won't talk to our Mars assets during that period because we expect significant degradation in the communication link, and we don't want to take a chance that one of our spacecraft would act on a corrupted command,"said Chad Edwards, manager of the Mars Relay Network Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The phenomenon, known as a solar conjunction, happens every 26 months and blocks the path of radio waves between Mars and Earth, severely curtailing communications. Over this period, the two planets are temporarily invisible to each other as the sun obscures their views.

While the space agency will continue to receive data from its Mars-based equipment, it’s expected some of this will have to be retransmitted later due to data loss or corruption.

NASA’s Opportunity and Curiosity rovers are currently active, while its Odyssey, Reconnaissance and MAVEN orbiters circle the red planet. All missions have previously experienced a solar junction.

"All of these spacecraft are now veterans of conjunction. We know what to expect," Edwards said.

NASA prepares for the blackout by sending up any necessary commands in advance.

Team members are encouraged to take advantage of the hiatus by catching up on other work or taking vacation days.


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