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Mars Space Science

Mars Camera's Worsening Eye Problems 93

Posted by kdawson
from the ringing-in-the-eyes dept.
Mr_Foo writes "According to a Nature article, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE imager is suffering from a loss of peripheral vision. The problem surfaced less than a month after the orbiter reached Mars. One the camera's four color detectors has completely stopped working, and it is feared that the problems are spreading. Currently seven of the fourteen HiRISE's detectors are sending back corrupted data and although the issue is only creating a 2% loss of signal at this time it is expected to worsen. The lead investigator for the mission is quoted as saying the problem is systemic: 'In the broken detectors, extra peaks and troughs are somehow being introduced, causing... a "ringing" in the signal. "We don't know where the ringing is coming from," [the investigator] says.' Warming the electronics before taking images seems to help the problem. This effect might be one reason why the detectors on the cold periphery of the array were the first to pack up."
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Mars Camera's Worsening Eye Problems

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    "We don't know where the ringing is coming from," [the investigator] says.
    Did anyone remember to put the rover on the do not call registry?
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by flyingfsck (986395)
      Time to try a different ringtone?
    • by wik (10258)
      E.T. phone home?
    • by danlock4 (1026420)
      Ring around the rosy,
      pocket full of posies,
      ashes, ashes, we all fail to transmit uncorrupted data....
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Alioth (221270)
      While your post is obviously a joke (I note that when there's a story with elements many Slashdotters don't understand, they make corny jokes about it), it's probably worth mentioning what ringing in this context actually is.

      "Ringing", in electronics, is small unwanted oscillations in the signal. It is usually caused by stray capacitances and inductances in the circuit. Stray capacitances and inductances are caused not by components in the circuit, but just the innate capacitances etc. of things like tracks
    • The parent's comment is funny, but I just want to point out that we're talking about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter , which as the name illustrates is absolutely not a rover (like the Mars Exploration Rovers...), but is orbiting Mars...
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      Actually, NASA has a long history of problems [wikipedia.org] with rings.

      -Eric

  • by macadamia_harold (947445) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @06:49PM (#17976230) Homepage
    "We don't know where the ringing is coming from,"

    I can only imagine what that roaming charge looks like.
    • I can only imagine what that roaming charge looks like.

      I'm sure it's "billions and billions" [amazon.com]. :)
  • uh oh (Score:2, Funny)

    by jswigart (1004637)
    Maybe the transformers are messing with it.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      RF interference would of shown up in the lab when the rover was built and then bench tested.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    So, masturbation does cause blindness, only not for humans? Well, someone has to take the hit, after all. Karma.. it makes sense.
  • Surpising? No. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Icarus1919 (802533)
    I don't know why anyone is every surprised when stuff goes wrong on missions, or equipment breaks down. Nasa is a governmental agency and as such has a big beaurocratic morass, and often different divisions don't know what the others are doing. I used to date the daughter of the Vice President of Operations at Nasa. The first time I ever got to talk to him, I was so excited; I asked him about an upcoming mission that was going to be taking off. It might actually have been this one, it was a year or two a
    • by Tablizer (95088)
      Nasa is a governmental agency and as such has a big beaurocratic morass, and often different divisions don't know what the others are doing.

      That is because they try to compartmentalize the probe and then subcontract out the subsystems based on specifications. The cameras are probably built by a commercial firm that specializes in space cameras, not the government. The people who designed the camera may not know which mission it flies on if they don't keep up on news. NASA has been sending Mars orbiters ro
    • Re:Surpising? No. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pnot (96038) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @07:34PM (#17976566)
      I don't know why anyone is every surprised when stuff goes wrong on missions, or equipment breaks down. Nasa is a governmental agency and as such has a big beaurocratic morass...

      NASA was a governmental agency when they successfully landed human beings on the moon and brought them safely back to earth. They were a governmental agency when they sent out Voyager 1, currently leaving the solar system and still operational after thirty years. Certainly NASA's administration appears to have been getting a bit top-heavy of late, but it's short-sighted to put that down to the simple fact of NASA being a governmental agency.

      The fact is, space exploration is hard. Things go wrong all the time, on both commercial and government-agency missions. For a far more dramatic commercial-sector cock-up, you only have to look back two weeks to the latest Sea Launch disaster [spaceflightnow.com].

      I'm all for private investment in space, but as far as I know no commercial mission has yet made it out of Earth's gravity well. Good luck to Burt Rutan et al., but I think it'll be a while before they land anyone on the moon, or get a probe as far as Mars.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Cheapy (809643)
      This anecdote can't be true. Absolutely not.

      Who's heard of a /.er dating someone?
    • by fsh (751959) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @07:58PM (#17976706)
      First off, inside NASA, all projects are referred to by particular names and acronyms, and you'll often see people that aren't aware of the 'street name' of a particular project.

      Second, the office of operations is more into the financial stuff than the technical stuff. That'd be like asking Linus Torvald's banker about the next Linux release.

      Third, although NASA is a governmental agency, is has a disproportionate number of extremely intelligent and driven engineers and scientists on board. This is evidenced by the simple fact that although we have put millions of dollars into orbit around Mars, people *expect* it to work perfectly every time. The reason we're looking up there is that we *don't* know everything; perhaps these problems indicate an unexpected radiation belt or dust belt around Mars; maybe the problem was during the aerobraking which somehow didn't go as expected.

      To simply blame it on the bureaucracy inherent in any large organization is intellectually indolent at best. Any undertaking this huge will, by its very nature, involve many people doing many different things, and as such will be infested with bureaucracy. This does not mean that all such projects are doomed to failure by way of miscommunication;quite the opposite in fact.

      From your post:
      I used to date the daughter of the Vice President of Operations at Nasa.
      Please do not take your failings in communication out on NASA.

    • I used to date the daughter of the Vice President of Operations at Nasa. The first time I ever got to talk to him, I was so excited; So, we're dealing with a transsexual here?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Valar (167606)
      While there are disadvantages to publically funded space exploration, it might be necessary in a lot of cases if we want certain research done. There was/is no profit motive for lunar exploration or mars exploration, for example. Therefore, there would be no incentive for a private corporation to ever step foot out there. The only forseeable reason for a private company to set up base on the moon or mars would be to sell things to people already living there. If nobody is willing to land, then nobody will l
    • You were excited to meet your girlfriend's father? Somethings wrong with you. ;)
      • by ediron2 (246908) *
        Slashdot. Nerd. Date's dad was a VP at NASA. Excited to meet him.

        Seems patently clear and logical to me.

        I am an erstwhile fan of good chefs and brilliant engineering, but couldn't care less about actors and politicians and the society page types. The something wrong isn't with us. It's with the rest of the world.
    • by Alioth (221270)
      A quick tip: Bureau + cracy = bureaucracy (remember just to add 'cracy' to bureau whenever you want to spell that word, then you won't wrote 'beaurocracy').

      In any case, I think people's expectations are unrealistically high at expecting an almost perfect success record on a machine in an environment we know little about, a couple of AU from Earth. Bureaucracy has little to do with it. A success rate of Mars of over 50% is stunningly successful if you think about what it takes to send hardware that far and h
    • by GWBasic (900357)

      I don't know why anyone is every surprised when stuff goes wrong on missions, or equipment breaks down. Nasa is a governmental agency and as such has a big beaurocratic morass, and often different divisions don't know what the others are doing.

      The fact that things go wrong has nothing to do with beuracracy. Whenever you build a [big complex device] that runs in [an environment that's difficult to reproduce] and you don't have an opportunity to fix things once they leave your workbench, the risk of failure

  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @07:04PM (#17976332) Homepage Journal
    Its all lies.
    The camera is not sending back corrupted images, it is selectively censoring the portions of mars which contain sensitive terrorist targets.

    All is not lost yet though, just look at one of the amazing images [arizona.edu] from todays bundle, it shows gullies within a crater.
    I really hope they manage to solve this problem.
  • by flyingfsck (986395) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @07:04PM (#17976336)
    TFA shows an image with a huge fingerprint in the middle of a crater. Either the lens is dirty or that was a very large Martian...
  • A Damn Shame (Score:5, Informative)

    by fsh (751959) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @07:12PM (#17976376)
    Although the rovers are certainly the superstars of Mars research, the MRO has provided more usable data than any other Mars mission so far. I certainly hope they can fix this problem, or at least work around it; the MRO should have many years of good science left in its system. I believe that the primary mission is scheduled to run through 2008 and then extended missions will be tacked on after that.

    Incidentally, this is the camera that could pick out the rovers from orbit [nasa.gov]. Losing definition on this camera would certainly impact one of the missions objectives, which is to look for good landing spots for future missions (robotic and human).

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @07:15PM (#17976416) Homepage Journal
    I've read about a fair number of camera problems on fairly recent missions. Cassinni had unexpected fogging problems that appeared to be reduced by heating. The comet collider companion craft (forgot name) also had blurred vision of some kind. Perhaps they are pushing the limits of camera technology and feeling the effects.
    • by khallow (566160)
      These are all one-off designs that spend years in one of the more hostile environments for optics and electronics that science has discovered. Should we be surprised that there's a host of little flaws showing up?
      • by Fred_A (10934)

        Should we be surprised that there's a host of little flaws showing up?
        Everyone has little flaws coming up when they're past their prime. Those crafts should be designed to squint a little, that's all.
  • No pictures (Score:3, Interesting)

    by heroine (1220) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @07:27PM (#17976524) Homepage
    This is probably the first time not a single story about a defect in an image sensor had pictures showing the effects of the defect.

    • Re:No pictures (Score:4, Informative)

      by fsh (751959) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @10:23PM (#17977834)
      In this case, the problem isn't the optics involved (like when they showed before and after pictures of the Hubble problem), but in the circuitry to transmit the images from the CCD to the antenna. Check out this schematic [arizona.edu]. If you look at the top picture, all the way on the right, you'll see 14 stylized circuit boards; that's where the problem is.

      Because it's a circuitry/transmission problem, they can essentially recover the image from a particular detector or not. For the 'ringing' problem they've mentioned, if it's a small enough effect they can subtract it from the data.

      Also in that picture, they show the 'focal plane assembly'; this is essentially a separate CCD for each color filter used (except the red color which goes all the way across). The problem is very bad in one of the IR chips; bad enough that they can't use the data at all.

      In other words, it's a problem with the digital transmission. Just like for digital phone, radio, or TV; you either get a usable signal (perhaps with some drops) or no signal at all.

      • by mikael (484)
        Could moisture/dust be getting into the circuitry? The article does mention that heating the system up seems to help.
        • by fsh (751959)
          Heating it up in this case is just slang for turning it on before actually using it; there's not really a heater per se. I did find this from a NASA white paper:

          Low-noise CCD performance was attained at a rate of 16 Mpix/s. 128 levels of time delay and integration (TDI) is used to achieve a signal-to-noise ratio of >150:1, but requires precision timing in the electronics and a quiet spacecraft.

          The fact that the problem is semi-harmonic certainly seems to indicate some sort of short (like a ground-hu

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Loss of peripheral vision? Sounds like the Mars Rover has glaucoma. Hope Mars is herb friendly.
  • Does anybody know what kind of defect would create slow degeneration of the type described? Can the cold or tempurature cycling cause tiny cracks in the silicon or the like? Wouldn't they have looked into that and tested the equipment in expected conditions? I assume it is a solid-state system, other than the aiming mechanisms, which aren't the problem.
    • by Sporkinum (655143)
      Actually, it sounds somewhat similar to the Samsung camcorder I had that had a Sony CCD the went bad. Sony recalled thousands of cameras, movie and snapshot type, due to bad ccds.
      • by Tablizer (95088)
        Actually, it sounds somewhat similar to the Samsung camcorder I had that had a Sony CCD the went bad. Sony recalled thousands of cameras, movie and snapshot type, due to bad ccds.

        Did they gradually grow worse, or were they bad out of the showroom? Google-time I guess. Hard to believe that lessons from Sony's error may save a Mars mission :-)
               
        • Many went bad gradually; the sensors were not sealed properly and moisture eventually found it's way in. I had one that was able to compensate for a while by periodically remapping the pixels, but eventually the ability to form a clear image was completely lost. If you thought the thousands of consumer camera recalls cost Sony, you ought to see what this recall is going to cost them!
          • by Tablizer (95088)
            the sensors were not sealed properly and moisture eventually found it's way in.

            That probably won't be a problem for a probe in orbit. Although, I suppose if they are not sealed as intended, then some noxious internal fumes may be getting in and messing them up.
                     
            • You do know that the whole "Mars probe uses the Sony consumer camera sensors" thing is just a joke, right? It was limited to a set group of consumer CCD's manufactured during a certain time window at certain plant(s), etc. I highly doubt that NASA was using the same low grade equipment.
  • ... who initially read the title as stating that a mars camera is making eye problems worse?
    Well, I'm glad that I don't own one. :-)
  • ...the next probes/rovers are going to require prescription glasses.
  • Now that Hubble service mission has been given green light, may be NASA could do yet another service mission to fix this!

    Oh, wait...
    • by fyoder (857358)

      Now that Hubble service mission has been given green light, may be NASA could do yet another service mission to fix this!

      Sounds good to me, any excuse for a manned mission. And it does point up a reason for manned missions. Humans are good at fixing things on site. Fixed a dicky server just this morning. Not on Mars though. That would be an amazing on site support contract. Serious overtime.

  • "Orbiter's HiRISE imager is suffering from a loss of (...) vision"
    Yeh...It needs eyeglasses.
  • The goggles, they do nothing!
  • How Hirise works (Score:4, Interesting)

    by heroine (1220) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @10:20PM (#17977814) Homepage
    Seem to recall the Hirise sensors have 256 cells for every column. Each cell samples the same point of light. The 256 samples are averaged to give a final result. Motion of the camera repeats the process for the next row. If 4 cells in a column die, you should get a 2% reduction in dynamic range, but far better than any consumer camera.

    Deciphering the scant information, it sounds like if we could see the defects, they would have the same type of ghosting you used to have with old SVGA cables. It's probably restricted to columns and looks like a double image in certain columns.

    • by kilonad (157396) *
      The HiRise camera uses 14 2048x128 pixel CCDs. The 2048 pixels are in the across-track direction (perpendicular to the direction of flight), and the 128 pixels are in the along-track direction. The charge in each pixel is read out (along the 128 pixel direction) at the same speed that the image moves across the sensor, a technique known as Time Delay Integration (TDI). The pixels aren't averaged, since all the signal from one point is kept together in one packet.

      If the first four pixels in a column die,
  • CMYK? (Score:1, Funny)

    by Doc Hoss (1062428)

    One the camera's four color detectors has completely stopped working, ...
    I for one would love to see pictures from the RED Planet, but that could present a problem if the red color stopped working.
  • by Lawrence_Bird (67278) on Monday February 12, 2007 @12:53AM (#17979002) Homepage
    that makes just about everything nasa sends there break? 
    • by Fweeky (41046)
      It's nearby, has fairly mild conditions, and it's an interesting target; we send more stuff there and pay more attention to it. Since it's popular, there's more pressure on each probe to really better all the previous ones, so we're more ambitious with what we send.

      I'm sure we'd see similar rates of failure if we sent probe after probe after probe to the outer planets; each probe would really want to do something different to the previous one, and pushing the boundaries would invariably find them. Instead
  • Wouldn't the use of a ThermoElectric Generator [wikipedia.org] negate most of the issue because of the heat generated?
  • They really should have got the extended warranty.
  • radiation caused (Score:3, Interesting)

    by renau (123225) on Monday February 12, 2007 @02:56AM (#17979764) Homepage

    My feeling is that this is a radiation caused problem. Radiation can "move" particles
    on the electronic circuits. This will affect timing (faster or slower depending on
    the circuit), and this is a reason why the temperature change has an impact.

    The only thing is that I will not expect to have very new technology (350nm or older).
    If this is the case, there should be HUGE amounts of radiation to have such impact.
    Well, I guess that it is space after all.

    btw, if the error is much bigger than the radiation models could predict, the satelite
    may be going through some "unexpected" radiation source (great) or there was some
    problems during design (sucks).

  • "We don't know where the ringing is coming from"

    I, for one, welcome our new Martian overl--OH MY GOD, THEY HAVE DEATH RAYS! RUN!
  • One the camera's four color detectors has completely stopped working, and it is feared that the problems are spreading.
    Did you see that - a jet of fire and a puff of flame [fourmilab.ch] from the Martian surface? No, and neither did the orbiter.
  • Gee, pity we don't have a human nearby to fix things. Oh, but that's right... robots can do everything better than people.

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