+NASA's Curiosity rover is back in business after a weeks-long communication gap caused by solar interference. The rover had been on its own since early April, when Mars slipped behind the Sun from Earth's perspective.
Sun can disrupt communications between the two planets in this alignment, which is known as a Mars solar conjunction, so Curiosity's handlers at Mission Control had temporarily stopped sending commands to the one-ton rover. Now, +NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers from +NASA and academics from the University of Leicester in UK will be unable to send commands to the rover due to solar interference from the Sun.
Curiosity landed inside the red planet's huge Gale Crater in August last year, kicking off a two-year surface mission to determine if Mars has ever been capable of supporting microbial life. The rover has already checked off its main mission goal. Before conjunction, Curiosity collected samples from a hole it drilled 6.4 centimetres into a rocky outcrop called John Klein.
The rover's analysis of these samples allowed mission scientists to determine that Mars was indeed habitable billions of years ago. Curiosity's post-conjunction plan involves drilling another hole nearby, to confirm and extend scientists' understanding of the John Klein area, mission officials have said.
When that work is done, Curiosity will likely begin the 10 kilometres trek to the base of Mount Sharp, the mysterious 5.4 km-high mountain that rises from Gale's center. Mars solar conjunctions occur every 26 months, so veterans of NASA's Mars missions are used to dealing with them, the report said.