All eyes are on Mars in the week, and, if we’re being honest, NASA’s InSight lander isn’t the star of the show immediately. At the time of writing, we’re anxiously waiting to seek out whether or not the Perseverance rover survives its fiery arrival at Mars. But Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) is simply the primary hazard that awaits robotic missions to the Mars. Mars exploration may be a marathon, not a sprint, and while Perseverance is simply getting started, InSight, which has been on the Mars for 2 years now, is approaching a troublesome leg of the race.
InSight’s nemesis: Martian dust. an equivalent cruel villain that killed the chance rover back in 2018.
InSight’s situation isn’t that dire just yet. Currently, the lander’s solar panels are producing about 27% of the facility they might create in ideal, dust-free conditions. That’s enough to stay the spacecraft alive, but not enough to function at full capacity. The team at NASA’s reaction propulsion Laboratory has been producing an idea to “keep InSight safe through the winter in order that we will resume science operations as solar intensity increases,” consistent with project manager Chuck Scott.
NASA InSight shared these images on February 12th showing the build-up of Martian dust on the solar panels.
Stage one among the plan involved some good old-fashioned shaking. On Sunday, InSight used the motors which unfurled the solar panels to jostle them in an attempt to clear away some dust. The results don’t seem to possess been significant, but it had been worth a try.
The above images showing InSight’s attempts to shake off some dust.
Stage two of the plan requires shutting down various instruments periodically so as to take care of essential systems. InSight’s meteorological observation post are going to be one among the primary victims of this power-saving regime, taking only infrequent measurements over the approaching months. Whether InSight will have got to pack up other instruments is essentially weather dependant. If a friendly whirlwind stops by to blow the solar panels clean, InSight’s troubles are going to be quickly forgotten. Similar whirlwind cleaning events saved the Spirit and Opportunity rovers several times during their missions, and InSight has already observed many dust devils in its vicinity over the past two years.
On the opposite hand, windy season just ended, so it’d be a short time before another whirlwind comes close enough. to form matters worse, Mars is approaching aphelion (its furthest point from the Sun) in July, further reducing the daylight reaching the solar panels. At that point, it’s likely that each one of InSight’s instruments will need to be powered down temporarily.
The team is confident that they will manage the lander’s power consumption effectively through aphelion, in order that it can begin of hibernation and obtain back to figure afterward.
Hopes are still high for more good science from InSight within the years to return. The lander mission got extended for two-year in this January, with the first goal of providing long duration quality seismic dataset. Additionally, a lower priority goal involved making a final attempt at burying InSight’s heat flow probe deeper underground. The probe had been stuck slightly below the surface for months because the Martian soil offered surprisingly little friction, which the probe needed to push itself down. Those final efforts were undertaken in early January, but with little success, therefore the digging was abandoned permanently on January 14.
Insight’s look for Marsquakes has been more successful. The seismometer’s observations over subsequent two years may finish being the lander’s most precious contribution to our understanding of the Mars.
Incidentally, InSight’s seismometer is additionally getting to attempt to ‘hear’ Perseverance’s landing on Thursday. As Nancy Atkinson wrote last week, “Since the precise timing and site of Perseverance’s arrival is already known, attempting to concentrate for the rover are often wont to calibrate seismic measurements.” So while InSight hunkers down for the winter, it, like us, are going to be listening carefully for Perseverance to the touch down safely.