Seems a perilous journey ahead for NASA’s InSight mission in Mars.
NASA’s InSight lander, which touched down in November 2018 to analyze the Red Planet’s structure and seismic activity, may seem to be facing its end. The lander depends on power sourced from its solar panels, and because Mars has been quite notorious as a dusty planet, it has bombarded thick layers of dust on the InSight lander panels, enormously reducing the power the lander can generate. Because of thi fact, Scientists have accepted for the past few months that it was a writing on the wall for the InSight mission,
Dust Storm Threatens to Curtail Power from Solar Panels
But with a continent-size dust storm is now casting the Martian skies, fears about enveloping the solar panels with immense amounts of dust have worsened, thereby possibly curtailing its ability to continue with the mission.
Chuck Scott, project manager for InSight at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said in a statement that power ha been serious issue in the past, and this ecomes worse with the dust storm. Scott said that if the mission can ride out the dust storm,”Iwe can keep operating into winter.” However, he said he is worried about the next storm that would come along.
According to a Space.com report, InSight had been generating 425 watt-hours per Martian day on the average. This week, however, it is just managing 275 watt-hours. The lander needs around 300 watt-hours per Martian day to keep running its equipment that includes the seismometer, communications and basic functions operational.
Although estimates foresaw that the mission would end in the late summer, quiet weather at the lander’s location in Elysium Planitia increased its mission timeline to a few months. But a big enough dust storm has always been considered tobe enough to end InSight.
Then, on Sept. 21, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) snapped images of a large dust storm about 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) from the lander. Initially, power production remained steady, but on Monday, October 3, the skies over InSight were darkening and the storm’s had affected the lander.
Equipment Shut Down to Conserve Energy
As a result, InSight’s remaining operational instrument was shut down, incuding its seismometer, for two weeks to save energy in hopes of weathering the storm.
However, mission team members decided to run the seismometer for as long as possible rather than conserve energy to continue science data gathering. Still, the instrument had been alternating operations and rest every 24 hours.
That decision also means that, unlike many spacecraft, NASA won’t send a command to InSight to end its mission. Instead, the lander will simply fall silent on its own when power finally runs out.
There’s a chance InSight may still pull through this particular storm. According to MRO observations, the dust storm’s growth has slowed and its clouds aren’t growing as quickly. However, even if this event quiets down, another storm will come very soon. Increased dust storm activity has been expected given the changing Martian seasons, and this particular storm is the third for the year.
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