Nasa’s Mars reconnaissance orbiter (MRO) spacecraft has malfunctioned for the fourth time after the satellite switched into safe mode automatically.

The MRO has been in-orbit around Mars’s science orbit since 2005 on a mission to investigate the presence of water on the planet.

The craft and its suite of six science instruments have returned more data than all other current and past Mars missions combined, according to a Nasa statement.

The orbiter automatically rebooted its computer without instruction for the fourth time following similar reboots in February, June and early August in 2009.

The spacecraft is in communication with the ground system and is being remotely diagnosed to identify the problem by keeping a watch for engineering data from the spacecraft.

After the previous three anomalies, the spacecraft had been programmed to frequently record engineering data onto non-volatile memory to provide an improved record of spacecraft events leading up to the reboot.

Nasa jet propulsion laboratory mars reconnaissance orbiter project manager Jim Erickson said that they hope to gain a better understanding of what is triggering these events and then have the spacecraft safely resume its study of Mars by next week.