Squeaky bum time over at NASA for the team handling the Pluto probe with a sudden technical hitch – now resolved – days before the crucial fly-by, reports The Verge.
The New Horizons team is breathing a big sigh of relief this Monday. Over the weekend, the NASA team resolved a glitch that caused their Pluto probe to go into “safe mode” on July 4th. The spacecraft switched to its backup computer and briefly ceased communication with ground control.
After a couple hours of analysis and troubleshooting, mission researchers reported that they identified the issue, and the spacecraft is back to normal. Regular science operations will resume on July 7th, with the probe still on track for its July 14th flyby.
According to a NASA update, a “hard-to-detect flaw” in the probe’s command sequence surfaced when the team executed an operation to prepare for the upcoming Pluto flyby. Fortunately, neither the spacecraft’s software or hardware were damaged during the incident. NASA also noted that no operations like this one will occur again before the Pluto rendezvous, so the glitch shouldn’t cause any further grief.
The anomaly caused a stir over the weekend — it’s hard to troubleshoot a spacecraft that’s 3 billion miles from Earth. Radio signals traveling at light speed take 4.5 hours to reach the probe, so two-way communication takes 9 hours. NASA didn’t give concrete details about how they resolved the issue so quickly.
New Horizons has been traveling through space for more than nine years to reach Pluto. After spending a majority of its mission time in hibernation mode, the probe became active once again this January. Since then, New Horizons has been sending back numerous images of the dwarf planet during its approach, bringing Pluto and its moons into incredible focus.