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Mars Recon Orbiter Nearing Mars Orbit 103

Posted by Zonk
from the nanoo-nanoo dept.
DarkNemesis618 writes "The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched 12 August 2005, has nearly completed its 7 month journey to the Red Planet. At 9:24 pm GMT, the MRO is scheduled to fire its thrusters to slow it down enough to enter Mars orbit. NASA scientists are concerned about this final step for the orbiter as Mars has a history of 'swallowing' probes, orbiters, and landers sent to the Red Planet. What makes it more difficult is the delay time between NASA computers on earth and computers on board the orbiter. There is about a 12 minute delay between when data is sent from Earth to the time the orbiter's receivers pick it up, and vice versa. Because of this, onboard computers will handle the burn which adds to the risk."
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Mars Recon Orbiter Nearing Mars Orbit

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  • Lag! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Nosklo (815041)
    There is about a 12 minute delay between when data is sent

    12 minutes!! That's a little more than the lag I got in any game I've ever played, including MUDs by dialup!!
    And I live in a third world poor country!!

    I think NASA should hire 3rd world old gamers, at least they are used to the lag...

    • by moehoward (668736)

      The 12 minute delay is due to the Slashdot Effect. Don't buy any of this so-called "speed of light" crap. At least the bandwidth is holding up this time. Most of the last several probes could not handle the Slashdotting and are still down. Even the article mentions this.
    • Re:Lag! (Score:5, Funny)

      by podperson (592944) on Friday March 10, 2006 @04:44PM (#14893744) Homepage
      It's just lucky for NASA that there's no difference between US/Imperial and metric time, or that might be a source of problems in itself.
    • Re:Lag! (Score:2, Funny)

      by Kaellenn (540133)
      Apparently Blizzard set up their link for them--12 minute lag during the first 3 months, but they'll credit nasa with a couple of days online time to make up the difference.
    • by dc29A (636871)
      12 minutes!! That's a little more than the lag I got in any game I've ever played, including MUDs by dialup!!
      And I live in a third world poor country!!


      - I take it you never played WoW then. :)
    • Re:Lag! (Score:3, Funny)

      by coolgeek (140561)
      One of my old bosses worked at JPL. He was in charge of navigating Voyager for one of it's planetary encounters. I think it was Saturn. Aside from some other challenges with the planet being in Earth's equatorial plane during the encounter (which greatly complicated telemetry collection), they were running all their calculations on an IBM 360 in Pasadena in the middle of August. Anyone who's been around here knows it's about 90-100F outside during August, and maybe gets down to around 80-85 at night. T
  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Friday March 10, 2006 @04:42PM (#14893715)

    Despair gave way to cautious optimism today across the community as K'Breel, Speaker for the most Illustrious Council of Elders, delivered a statement. The statement was in response to scattered reports that the disgusting inhabitants of the evil blue planet were at last feeling the awful toll of war.

    Referring to the intercepted communications from the sinister blue planet, which characterized our fair world as 'unpredictable', made references to our past triumphs as our world 'swallowing' their devices of terror, and admonishing their leaders not to become 'overconfident' in their dealings with us, K'Breel waxed poetic on the Speaking Dais, amid much gelsac-swelling:
    "Gentle Citizens, today I stand before you as qurilly as a youngling in the knowledge that the hideous inhabitants of the evil blue planet are at last feeling the awful reality of what it is to make war against the Community. Even now their debased leaders are faced with the inevitablity of defeat! Rejoice with me, pod-mates! This is the turning point!"
    When several of the attending citizens failed to immediately make merry, K'breel denounced them as traitors and ordered their gelsacs punctured on the spot.
  • by Expert Determination (950523) on Friday March 10, 2006 @04:42PM (#14893719)
    Isn't it supposed to say how this probe might discover signs of alien life like every other story about space in the last decade? Leaving that out is like leaving out the period at the end of a sentence.
  • by xmas2003 (739875) * on Friday March 10, 2006 @04:42PM (#14893720) Homepage
    SpaceFlightNow has the play-by-play [spaceflightnow.com] - more exciting than watching grass grow ;-) [watching-grass-grow.com]
  • Catching up? (Score:3, Informative)

    by WhiteLudaFan (634444) on Friday March 10, 2006 @04:43PM (#14893725)
    Let's see if we can catch up with the little red martians... Mars Scorecard [anl.gov]
  • by tetrahedrassface (675645) on Friday March 10, 2006 @04:43PM (#14893729) Journal
    from #space to /.

    link to JPL Mission Control webcam http://137.78.244.28/axis-cgi/mjpg/video.cgi?camer a=&showlength=1&resolution [137.78.244.28]

    NASAtv coverage has begun. http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/ [nasa.gov]

    Realtime Dopplar radar from MRO: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mro/realtime/mro-doppler_ lg.html [nasa.gov]

    This is gonna be fun!

  • Computerized burns (Score:3, Interesting)

    by donour (445617) <donour&cs,uchicago,edu> on Friday March 10, 2006 @04:45PM (#14893748) Homepage
    Haven't orbital burns been computer controlled since the beginning human spaceflight. If I remember correctly, the manual burn during the Apollo 13 mission was not routine.

    It isn't really a burn, but aren't all space shuttle landing corrections done by machine as well. I seem to remember reading that the shuttle had only been landed by hand once.
    • Haven't orbital burns been computer controlled since the beginning human spaceflight.

      There is always a mix of manual and automatic control. On apollo 11 Mike Collins manually shut down the SM main engine at the end of the trans earth injection burn, not because the system wasn't going to do it automatically but because it made sense to back up the automated system.

      All the apollo lunar landings were flown manually for the last minute or so. I don't know if you include this. My recollection is that shuttle

      • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatmanNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday March 10, 2006 @05:05PM (#14893948) Homepage Journal
        All the apollo lunar landings were flown manually for the last minute or so.

        Actually, Armstrong took manual control from the computer during the Apollo 11 landing. This was due to several program errors (the radar switch was in the wrong position) as well as mistakes in automatic guidance. Armstrong was advised to abort at one point, but chose to land the Eagle anyway.

        My recollection is that shuttle landings are generally flown manually.

        Pretty much everything up until the landing gear is released is automatic. The Shuttle could be landed on automatic, but the engineers made an intentional decision to make the landing gear deployment a 100% manual process. The reason for this is that the landing gear cannot be stowed in flight once it is deployed. Should a computer error occur, premature deployment of the gear could cause a failed reentry or undershoot of the intended landing zone.

        The Russians, OTOH, had no qualms about automating the landing. The Buran Space Shuttle flew once with no crew aboard, and safely landed on full automatic.
        • Armstrong was advised to abort at one point, but chose to land the Eagle anyway.

          I don't see that in the ALSJ [nasa.gov]. They got a quantity light but Armstrong had the vehicle on the ground within the required 60 seconds. And in any event the low quantity was a consequence of sloshing in the tanks and Armstrong could feel the fuel sloshing around by that time. He knew the gauge was wrong.

          The Shuttle could be landed on automatic, but the engineers made an intentional decision to make the landing gear deployment a 1

          • by AKAImBatman (238306) *
            I don't see that in the ALSJ. They got a quantity light but Armstrong had the vehicle on the ground within the required 60 seconds.

            Double-checking that, it looks like you're right. I'm probably thinking of the fact that there were several situations which called for a possible abort (including the 1201 program code which resulting in an abort during the last simulator run).

            As a result if they have to abandon a shuttle in orbit there is absolutely no way to recover the vehicle.

            More or less. I can't say I dis
            • Most everything else the computer might do is recoverable

              In general I agree with you on this. The best counter examples are during the launch, particularly with the timing of SRB ignition and SSME shutdown. Get those wrong and its all over very quickly.

              • The best counter examples are during the launch, particularly with the timing of SRB ignition and SSME shutdown. Get those wrong and its all over very quickly.

                True enough. Though there's little that could be done by a human anyway, so you just have to trust that the computer will get it right.

                BTW, scratch the part about the explosive bolts. I'm doing some checking, and it looks like NASA abandoned the bolts at some point. As far as I can tell, they're hydrolic now, but I don't know if they're still locked i
                • BTW, scratch the part about the explosive bolts.

                  My understanding is that the landing gear is definitely one shot. It is powered by a spring which is compressed during the stacking process on the ground. I think the confusion is with the release mechanism. There is a reusable system (perhaps hydraulic) but the explosive bolts are a destructive backup. I think the explosive devices are wired to fire automatically if the gear does not go down when commanded.

                  After the last shuttle disaster there was some spec

        • When you say that he was advised to abort, does that mean the manual landing, or landing in general? Thanks in advance.
      • Orbital burns of unmanned spacecraft (having implemented a few) are always computer controlled - I have no idea why the post claims this "adds to the risk." Robotic spacecraft are NOT piloted by joystick - carefully generated sequences of commands are sent up hours or days ahead of time. This is so things can be carefully checked by teams of people and simulated, and because joystick control simply isn't feasible past the Moon or so due to light time issues.

        There are variations in autonomy, though. On som

        • There are variations in autonomy, though.

          Yes I wondered about how degraded modes are handled for this burn in the MRO. Presumably not doing the burn at all is the worst case because it can't be done later and all science goals will be lost. So if the MRO can't (for example) verify attitude perhaps it will go ahead and do the burn anyway.

    • by AKAImBatman (238306) *
      Haven't orbital burns been computer controlled since the beginning human spaceflight.

      Pretty much. On most manned craft (going all the way back to Apollo), all the crew needs to do is punch in the preloaded program number, and the vehicle will attempt to do the rest. (That's why in the movies you always see the crew pull a booklet out before attempting a manuver. It's a list of program codes.) On the Space Shuttle, new telemetry can be uploaded by the ground crews. In theory, ground control is in a better
    • All you have to do to screw up a computer-controlled burn is put the wrong number in the computer.

      FYI, the explosion on Apollo 13 was not caused during a burn. They were conducting a routine stir of one of the oxygen tanks when a wire inside that had melted off its insulation while draining after a launch rehersal shorted. I don't remember if the return burn the Apollo 13 LEM later performed (not normal) was computer-controlled or not, but I seem to remember that it was.
  • Where a mission depends on preprogrammed intelligence to orbit safely, the success was really decided months ago when they sealed it in the launcher. It's good that humans are driving it to the last second, they put their energy into it, and error checked and corrected during production.
    • "good that humans AREN'T driving"
      What I'd give for Digg's delayed permissible edit time. Those contractions don't seem to come out of the keyboard very easily, and change the meaning of the sentence so significantly. Sorry about that mistake.
    • Where a mission depends on preprogrammed intelligence to orbit safely, the success was really decided months ago when they sealed it in the launcher. It's good that humans are driving it to the last second, they put their energy into it, and error checked and corrected during production.

      This isn't quite true. All missions of this type do multiple software patches in flight (even complete rebuilds). Things are by no means locked in at launch. The sequences to actually execute a critical event like orbit

      • Knowing that changes can be made after launch has made me wonder if the Genesis capsule that crashed after it's parachute failed to deploy last year could've been saved, had the problem been discovered before re-entry. The parachutes were programmed to deploy a certain amount of time after an accelerometer detected re-entry, but the accelerometer had been installed upside down according to an incorrect engineering drawing. It might have been possible to simply look for the negative reading. If that wasn't a
  • by The_REAL_DZA (731082) on Friday March 10, 2006 @04:47PM (#14893764)
    Sorry, NASA, I really am a fan but I just couldn't resist.
  • On my way to work this morning I was listening to my local NPR station and they talked about this upcoming orbital insertion. One of the NASA folks who was interviewed said that not only are they worried about the actual insertion but the probe will be going behind Mars at about the same time.

    They won't know with absolute certainty that everything is ok until the time has passed and the probe comes around the planet.

    Wonder if they brought in a case of antacids to pass the time.
    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Friday March 10, 2006 @05:01PM (#14893908) Homepage Journal
      They won't know with absolute certainty that everything is ok until the time has passed and the probe comes around the planet.

      Its a pity they couldn't organise a relay. There are two spacecraft in mars orbit right now which can relay comms from the ground. You would think that with a few software changes and a bit of planning one of them would be able to at least record telemetry from the spacecraft as it did the burn.

      • Its a pity they couldn't organise a relay. There are two spacecraft in mars orbit right now which can relay comms from the ground. You would think that with a few software changes and a bit of planning one of them would be able to at least record telemetry from the spacecraft as it did the burn.

        Take it one step further and ring Mars with communication satellites. If Mankind is ever going there, commsats will become a necessity to ensure uninterrupted communication. Bundle communications in with GPS (MPS?)

      • I'd wager they decided it wasn't worth the fuel for either the MRO or any of the other 3 probes currently in orbit to point their attennae at each other, then at earth to relay the info just to find out a few minutes earlier. It's probably possible to accomplish, but it's possible that the orbits just didn't work out or that any of the orbiters were busy with other tasks, such as MRO running self checks.
    • Orbit achieved as of 2225 GMT
  • Robotic missions like this have come a long way in exciting the public about science and astronomy. Besides, they're much cheaper and safer than manned (or wo-manned) spaceflight, especially given the unstable track record for successful Mars missions.
    • Re:Good PR (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith (789609) on Friday March 10, 2006 @05:11PM (#14894002) Homepage Journal
      much cheaper and safer than manned (or wo-manned) spaceflight

      Says who? Somebody who doesn't want to fly? Watching stuff on TV is always safer than actually going places but I will be stuffed if I am going to waste my life doing that.

      Nobody is forcing you to go to mars. Don't project your fears on to other people.

      • Nobody is forcing you to go to mars. Don't project your fears on to other people.

        With every kilogram counted as tens of thousands of dollars to send into orbit, it would cost exponentionally more to send a human and his/her supplies than a robot. Not counting life support systems, you also have to life food, water, and anything else to keep a human alive for 5 months to 2 years. (not to mention hopefully some for of entertainment)

        Sure, I'm all for manned spaceflight as the next person, but with Nasa's curre
      • Nobody is forcing you to go to mars. Don't project your fears on to other people.

        That's not sufficient if you want some of his/her tax money to go to your manned space program, and however brave he was, Neil Armstrong did not pay for the trip out of his pocket. You do need to convince people that the risk is acceptable and the rewards are substantial, which generally translates to the value of things that a man/woman can do on Mars that a robot cannot. I support a certain level of manned missions, but to

        • That's not sufficient if you want some of his/her tax money to go to your manned space program

          Agreed. I was replying to the posters point about risk.

      • Fears? You missed my point. I'd be the first to volunteer on any manned spaceflight if I could. Just meant that for now (until NASA or whatever other company can develop a better system than the shuttle) I'll settle for the scientific rewards of a robotic flight rather than no mission at all. At this point I'm ready to form my own space agency and create a space vehicle of my own that could transport every techie I can find. Any takers?
  • If the Rumsfield can keep mutating the name of the War on Terror to the Struggle for Freedom (and now the Long War), just rename the Mars Orbiter the Mars Meteor and call it a day.
  • by Scarletdown (886459) on Friday March 10, 2006 @04:56PM (#14893859) Journal
    I only hope that his time around, the probe will finally send back high resolution images of some of those hot Martian babes, like Dejah Thoris or Tara.

  • They must be using Time Warner / BrightHouse Networks for their ISP. Note to NASA...Check out Verizon FIOS.

    (sarcasm)
  • General: Be careful.. Half of these things have gotten away on us.
    Lieutenant: Don't worry. It was Firtz that missed those other two. I got the beagle. I'll get this one too.
  • The planet is not swallowing the probes or the landers. It is Marvin the Martian [toplicence.be] shooting the probes and th landers.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 10, 2006 @05:30PM (#14894172)
    MRO cmd:> set engine burn -t 27.0

      Engine burn duration set to: 27 minutes

    MRO cmd:> start engine burn -now

      Begin engine burn sequence: Are you sure? (y/N): y

      Have you calculated for correct distance in meters? (y/N): y

      Are you sure? (y/N): y

      Really sure? (y/N): y

      Remember the others we buried? Sure you want to do this? (y/N): y

    OK here goes nothing! Hold your breath!

    Executing command sequence...

    PROGRESS: 15%
  • Major Case of CYA? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Waffle Iron (339739)
    For days all the headlines I've seen about this mission talk mainly about how risky it is. It looks like NASA has learned to saturate the PR channels with pessimism so that if things don't work out, people just figure "oh well", and if they do work out, NASA looks heroic for overcoming the odds.
  • I can't believe that an internationally recognized source of news can't hire people with the talent & knowledge to know the difference between "breaking" something (ie, "breaking" something so that it no longer works), and braking something (ie, "braking" the car, in order to slow it down).

    I really don't know why I still have them as my home page... Daily I see tons of grammatical errors on their site, which naturally leads me to question how reliable their news stories are.
    • Trust me, I'm with you--I've got a great collection somewhere of stupid CNN typos and really bad headline writing. To their credit, though, nearly every one was fixed within a few hours, so they must have editors at some point in the process. (Just not the right point, apparently!)

      But I wonder if it's not just a case of "Bob, we HAVE to get this story up now! Scratch it out and we'll fix it in a minute!" We all make mistakes without realizing it when we're trying to get something written on a tight deadline
  • "Hey, Earl, it's my turn. You shot down the last probe those Earth slickers sent."
    "I still say the Revenue man sends 'em to find our stills."
  • by TrogL (709814)
    They're checking the orbit now.
  • As of 1 min ago, ~2:15 pm pacific time, the Orbiter emerged from behind Mars and its signal was reaquired by the Deep Space Network. Guess things are looking good this time. That will bring the success percentage for orbiters to 60% (3/5).
  • In orbit (Score:2, Informative)

    by djcinsb (169909)
    Orbit is now confirmed. Still need to collect telemetry to determine how close the orbit is to the desired one, but things are looking quite good.
  • Watching NASA TV, mission control just confirmed successful orbital entry of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. One of the scientists quickly said, "Today we really earned our 'O'".
  • Success!!!! (Score:5, Informative)

    by ashitaka (27544) on Friday March 10, 2006 @06:43PM (#14894753) Homepage
    The MRO is succesfully in orbit! Congrats to everyone at JPL.

    It always gives me goosebumps watching these events where mission control goes from joking and chatting to pin-drop quiet just before re-acquisition of signal and then the yells and whoops of joy when they lock on.

    Great stuff!
  • Mars has a history of 'swallowing' probes, orbiters, and landers sent to the Red Planet.


    Read, "Everytime we send one of these things to Mars, we fuck up the orbital calculations, and the bugger is either lost or crashes." Sure, blame Mars, you smarmy bastards.
    • They should go back to the old MOPS (Maneuver Orbital Program System) designed and programmed for JPL back in the early '80's. That, and its subsystem TRAM (Trajectory Monitor) never missed. It's only since the replaced it that they've been having trouble. It was so good that a few years later the Soviets aquired it for their own program, with similar results. All written by the late, lamanted Daniel J. Alderson.
  • What will this satellite do that others haven't ?

    We need to land on mars with robots and take some core samples.
    • What will it do that others can't? Remember, a satellite is not a class of objects like "a car," for instance. They don't just get pulled off a shelf and stuck on a rocket. A better question is, "What will these scientific instruments do that others haven't?"
      You'd do better to visit one of the official websites, or even to read a news release, but here's my take. One of the instruments has sub-meter resolution, and it will be able to find better and safer landing sites for those landers. The IR spect
    • What will this satellite do that others haven't ?

      36 channels of HD content, HBO with Playboy channel and HOTNET.

  • Capcom to Techhead:
    What exactly do you mean by "second thoughts about long-time stability regarding the runtime environment of Ada/XP(SP1)"?
  • This is so "old news". At the time of my writing, the success of MRO's insertion into orbit has been in the media for some time! Except that I often accuse media outlets of NOT telling about things before they actually happen, in which case I am possibly open to being called a hypocrite, I would say that this foreward looking story (or, at least, headline) is so very quickly outdated as to be a blot on Slashdot.

    Someone will look at my history and at first think this is 'bad blood', but I ask that my whole

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