Computer Glitch Silences Satellite

PARIS, Aug. 23 (UPI) — A European Space Agency observation satellite has suffered a computer glitch — its second — and can’t transmit its data to the ground, agency officials say.

The Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer spacecraft — launched in March 2009 –is orbiting Earth on a mission to make the most precise maps of minute variations in gravity on the continents and oceans across the globe, the BBC reported Monday.

A problem with the processor in the satellite’s main computer forced operators to switch over to its backup computer system in February. Now that unit has developed a fault, and engineers are struggling to return the spacecraft to full operation.

“There’s no doubt about it: we’re in a difficult situation, but we are not without ideas,” GOCE mission manager Rune Floberghagen said. “If we have just two half-computers, we can stitch them together and get GOCE working again”

Other systems on the satellite continue to work normally, including the gradiometer that senses subtle differences in the pull of gravity from place to place on Earth’s surface.

The second computer developed a fault in July affecting a communication link between the computer and a module that prepares telemetry for transmission to the ground. As a result, data are not being sent back to Earth.

Even if the fault cannot be fixed, GOCE has collected almost two-thirds of the gravity data the mission was expected to produce, the agency said.

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