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Friday, 29 November, 2002, 10:48 GMT
Time running out for spaceprobe
Galileo at Almathea, Nasa
We may never know what it found

Engineers are trying to recover valuable data from a stuck tape recorder on board the Galileo spacecraft orbiting Jupiter.


There are several options we can try to fix it

Dr Eilene Theilig
The data were recorded during the spacecraft's final encounter with a Jovian moon, a flyby of tiny Amalthea on 5 November.

Due to damage by the intense radiation near the satellite, Galileo entered so-called "safe mode" just 16 minutes after its encounter.

Since then, engineers have managed to return Galileo to normal operation - all except for the tape recorder.

Remaining few weeks

"It appears that the tape recorder has taken a hit from the intense radiation Galileo passed through," Dr Eilene Theilig, Galileo project manager, told BBC News Online.

"Our efforts to restore the tape recorder may continue for a few weeks," she adds. "We suspect radiation damage to either optical transistors or diodes in the tape recorder.

"There are several options we can try to fix it. We will pursue them until we are out of options, or we are out of time."

Current plans call for Galileo to be switched off in January 2003.

Europa concern

In the hours leading to the Amalthea flyby, and the minutes afterwards, Galileo gathered data about the energy fields and charged particles close to Jupiter, and about dust particles that make up a ring around the giant planet.

Most of that information is recorded on the tape recorder, so getting the data into the hands of scientists depends on reviving the machine.

Galileo has been orbiting Jupiter since 1995. It has been working almost five years longer than planned for its original prime mission.

The encounter with Amalthea, Jupiter's innermost moon, was Galileo's final flyby. The spacecraft has nearly depleted its supply of the propellant needed for pointing its antenna toward Earth and controlling its flight path.

While still controllable, Galileo has been put on an impact course with Jupiter next September to prevent it contaminating the moon Europa, a possible habitat for extraterrestrial life.

See also:

31 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
22 May 02 | Science/Nature
17 Jan 02 | Science/Nature
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