Mars Express survives solar eclipse season

Sept. 26, 2006 at 12:06 PM
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PARIS, Sept. 26 (UPI) -- The European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft has emerged from a demanding solar eclipse season during which it operated only on battery power.

The spacecraft used an ultra-low-power operating mode nicknamed "Sumo" -- a configuration aimed at saving the power necessary to ensure spacecraft survival, ESA officials said.

The solar eclipse season, which runs from the end of August until late September, is caused by the movements of the Earth and Mars -- and Mars Express -- around the sun. During that period, the spacecraft spent as long as 75 minutes hidden from the sun during each approximately 6-hour orbit around Mars.

During the blackout periods, the Mars Express solar panels generated no power and the spacecraft ran on three lithium-ion batteries that operated on-board scientific instruments and flight systems.

The ESA said the development of Sumo mode was also innovative in that it preserved fuel, providing a wide range of options for future science-enhancing maneuvers by Mars Express.

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