NASA today announced that Mars rover Curiosity's planned research has been suspended temporarily. The rover is still functional, but has been put on hold while researchers examine an electricity issue that has been detected.
This news comes just a week after Curiosity resumed operations following an unexpected software glitch in early November.
This new suspension came after NASA researchers detected a voltage change in the rover on Sunday, November 17. Mars Science Laboratory team members measured a change in voltage difference between the rover's chassis and its power bus. The difference first occurred intermittently before the voltage difference dropped to 4 volts from the 11 volts it has been at during its year on Mars. Researchers will be testing Curiosity's systems in the coming days to determine the source of the voltage drop.
"The vehicle is safe and stable, fully capable of operating in its present condition, but we are taking the precaution of investigating what may be a soft short," said Jim Erickson, Mars Science Laboratory project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
A soft short would mean that voltage is leaking through a material that is only partially conductive. Such a situation would explain the change in voltage, but might also indicate a larger issue with the instrument or system where the short originated. NASA stated that another soft short had occurred for Curiosity shortly after it landed last year, dropping the rover's working voltage difference between the chassis and the power bus to 11 volts.
This latest short has not harmed the rover and did not even trigger its emergency safe mode. Curiosity is also capable of operating within the new lower voltage, though future shorts could seriously impair the rover's capabilities.
(Image courtesy NASA)