NASA’s spacecraft on Mars is heading for dust.
The Insight launcher loses power due to dust on it solar panels. NASA said Tuesday it will continue to use the spacecraft’s seismometer to register seaquakes until the electricity goes out, probably in July. Then flight controllers will monitor InSight until the end of this year before canceling everything.
“The team really didn’t have too much doom and gloom. We’re really still focused on operating the spacecraft,” said Bruce Banerdt, chief scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Since landing on Mars in 2018, InSight has discovered more than 1,300 earthquakes; the largest of these, magnitude 5, occurred two weeks ago.
It will be NASA’s second spacecraft to Mars lost in the dust: a global dust storm has taken Opportunity away in 2018. In the case of InSight it was a gradual collection of dust, especially over the last year.
Two other operating NASA spacecraft on the surface of Mars – Curiosity and Perseverance – are still working thanks to nuclear energy. The space agency may reconsider solar energy in the future for Mars, said Planetary Science Director Lori Glaze, or at least experiment with new panel cleaning technology or aim for less turbulent seasons.
InSight currently generates one-tenth of the sun’s electricity, which it made upon arrival. Deputy project manager Katia Zamora Garcia said the launcher initially had enough power to operate the electric oven for one hour and 40 minutes; now it is up to 10 minutes maximum.
The InSight team expected so much dust to accumulate, but hoped the gusty wind or dust devil could clean up the solar panels. This has not yet happened, despite the fact that several thousand whirlwinds are approaching.
“None of them hurt us enough to blow the dust off the panels,” Banerdt told reporters.
Another scientific instrument, called a mole, was to bury to a depth of 16 feet (5 meters) underground to measure the internal temperature of Mars. But the German excavator never went deeper than a couple of feet (half a meter) due to the unexpected composition of the red mud, and he was eventually pronounced dead early last year.
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Citation: Dust crash of NASA lander on Mars in July; power dwindling (2022, May 18) obtained May 18, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-05-dusty-demise-nasa-mars-lander.html
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