Scientists solve mystery of Mars Orbiter’s missing fuel
Recently, the 22-year-old Mars Odyssey showed signs of fuel loss. This led to an interplanetary mystery that required clever scientific investigation.
NASA engineers were worried for nearly two years that the Mars Odyssey orbiter's fuel supply was low. This would have devastating consequences for the spacecraft. NASA revealed that they had miscalculated the remaining fuel in the orbiter's tank. It's safe to go for two more years.
Mars Odyssey has been orbiting Mars for more than two decades. It has traveled a distance of 1.37 billion miles (2.21 trillion kilometers) in space. The orbiter was powered by 500 pounds (22.5 kilograms) of hydrazine propellant when it launched in 2001.The fuel gauge Odyssey lacks makes it difficult for mission controllers and mission engineers to determine how much fuel is left.
To check the orbiter's fuel supply, NASA's team would heat the propellant tanks of the spacecraft and measure how long it takes to reach a desired temperature. NASA wrote that "a nearly empty fuel tank would heat-up faster than a fully filled one."Although it's not perfect, it gave mission control an accurate estimate of how much gas was still in the tank.
Fuel estimates indicated that Odyssey was running out of fuel in the summer 2021. There was only about 11 pounds (5 kg) of propellant left. NASA reported that the team had calculated that 6 pounds (2.8 kg) of hydrazine was left. This meant that the mission would run out fuel in less than one year, much sooner than NASA had predicted.
This Samsung sale offers huge savingsThe 75-inch Samsung Q70A QLED4K TV is on sale for $800.This brings the price down to $1500 from $2300, which is 35% less. This TV is a great value for money and, according to Gizmodo, one of the most popular 4K TVs available.
The mission engineers were stumped. Either the spacecraft was leaking fuel, or their calculations were incorrect. Boris Yendler, an outside consultant who specializes in spacecraft propellant estimation, was brought in to help them. They spent months trying to figure this out.
Yendler discovered the reason for the disappearing fuel after studying the Odyssey's inner workings. One of the heaters on the orbiter, which connects the fuel tanks to the orbiter, was causing the propellant's temperature to rise faster than expected. The team was unable to estimate the amount of fuel left in Odyssey because the propellant heated up faster that they expected. This led them to believe there was less fuel in Odyssey's tank.
"Our method was perfect."The problem was that the fluid dynamics occurring aboard Odyssey are more complex than we thought," Jared Call from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Southern California, stated in the statement. That seems a bit defensive, but it's okay.
The mission team went back to the drawing board. They calculated how much fuel Odyssey had left and also took into account the heat. The orbiter is good to go up until 2025, it turns out. However, it is not guaranteed as the team continues to refine the measurements.
Call stated that it was a bit like scientific discovery."You explore an engineering system without knowing what you'll discover. You'll find more surprises the further you look.
NASA's Martian fleet is missing Odyssey. The orbiter relays data between NASA's ground controller and its rovers on Mars. It has also helped in the exploration of minerals and ice deposits and potential landing spots on the Red Planet. The spacecraft's 22-year-old legacy will continue with some gas left in it.science