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Problems With MRO?

There are few things in life as frustrating as taking a long, long-planned, and expensive trip, only to discover once you arrive that your camera is on the fritz:

In November, scientists operating the probe’s high-resolution camera noticed an increase in image “noise,” such as bad pixels.

A problem also developed in an instrument that maps temperature, ice clouds and dust in the atmosphere. Scientists discovered the instrument had a skewed field of view. The errors became more frequent last month, and engineers have decided to temporarily halt work with the instrument.

The RMN appears to have extracted a little more detail out of nearby Ball Aerospace:

NASA engineers and their partners at Boulder’s Ball Aerospace are troubleshooting a “serious” problem with the most powerful camera on the $720 million Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter…

The camera contains 14 light-sensitive chips, known as charge-coupled devices or CCDs, that convert starlight into digital signals. Problems have surfaced with the electronics attached to seven of the 14 CCDs, said lead HiRISE scientist Alfred McEwen, of the University of Arizona.

Electronic noise in the system is degrading picture quality, though NASA said in a Wednesday news release that the current impact is small. The big concern is that the situation will worsen.

Warming the camera’s electronics before taking HiRISE pictures reduces or eliminates the noise. That’s how mission engineers are coping – for now.

“We have mitigation by warming things up, so the chances are we can keep returning useful data for years to come,” said McEwen, who characterized the problem as “serious.”

“In a worst-case scenario, things are going to get worse and worse until there’s no longer anything we can do,” McEwen said. “In the worst case, it would spread to all of them (the CCDs), and we couldn’t take useful images anymore.”

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