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NASA: Perseverance rover spacecraft suffers minor communications issue

The spacecraft carrying NASA’s Perseverance rover, launched successfully early Thursday morning, is suffering from a minor communications issue, NASA confirmed.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced there was a small communication issue, but reassured the public that the spacecraft is healthy and on the correct trajectory.

He described the communications issue as something that NASA has seen in the past with other Mars missions.

“We’re using the Deep Space Network to receive the signals from the spacecraft right now,” Bridenstine explained. “Well, the Deep Space Network is a very sensitive receiver, it’s designed to capture very faint signals from deep space. And the spacecraft right now — yes, it’s in deep space, it’s a good distance from the Earth — but it is not the distance we would normally be receiving from using the Deep Space Network.

“So what this does is, it puts us in a position where the carrier wave — we have a strong carrier wave — but we haven’t been able to lock on to the modulation of that signal to receive the data.

“This is not unusual. Everything is going according to plan. We do need to fine-tune our receiving stations on the ground and do some things to capture that signal and lock on. But I think we’re in great shape.”

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket, carrying NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter, sits on the pad at Space Launch Complex 41
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30, 2020, at 7:50 a.m. EDT, carrying NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter. NASA

Matt Wallace, deputy project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, confirmed that the spacecraft was very stable and there was plenty of time to address the communications issue.

“There’s nothing we need to do urgently,” Wallace said. “In fact, we got such a good insertion from the launch vehicle, we’ve got plenty of time before we have to make our first trajectory correction maneuver. Nominally, it’s about 15 days after launch but we probably have time well beyond that based on how well we did. So we’ve got plenty of time to get the signal and to start interacting with the spacecraft.”

The communications issue was not the only drama of the day. A magnitude 4.2 earthquake shook the San Fernando Valley in California in the early hours of the morning, with tremors felt in the mission control room in Pasadena before the launch. Fortunately, the quake did not impact the ground control personnel or the facility and they were able to continue with the launch as planned.

For now, tweaking to the Deep Space Network ground stations will continue to address the communications issue. NASA also announced that the first telemetry data about the Perseverance spacecraft, such as thermal information, should be coming within the next few hours.

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