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InSight Mars Lander has just “weeks” of power left • The Register

The Mars InSight lander is preparing to drift off into an eternal sleep under a blanket of Martian dust obscuring solar panels as its power will be depleted in the next few weeks.

NASA announced Tuesday the unfortunate end of the Mars stationary science lab, saying dust storms that have gradually blanketed the spacecraft’s solar panels over its three years on the Martian surface were capped by a dusting earlier this year that left little to the spacecraft Energy to execute left his goals.

InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transportation, landed on Mars in November 2018 on a mission to study the red planet’s subsurface and seismic activity. InSight has nearly doubled its original mission duration of 728 days, recording over 1,300 marsquakes in that time, NASA said.

insight-lander-after

A dust-covered selfie of the Mars InSight lander taken on April 24

Insight is now down to a single tool — its seismometer — which Liz Barrett, director of InSight mission science and instrument operations at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the team is still collecting data.

“We’re pushing it to the end,” Barrett said. “There will be no heroic action taken to reestablish contact with InSight.” While a life-saving event – such as a strong gust of wind sweeping the panels clean – cannot be ruled out, it is considered unlikely. “

the final Countdown

InSight may have encountered some issues during its mission, but has still collected tons of digital Martian dirt data since 2018.

One such piece of information that has already been analyzed was the recently reported Christmas Eve 2021 Marsquake, which was determined to be in fact the result of a meteorite impact on the Red Planet. To reach this conclusion, NASA combined images from InSight with observations from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which discovered a previously invisible and likely new crater.

Beyond this discovery, countless details remain to be archived and made available to researchers from around the world, such as things like the inner layers of Mars, its core, and subsurface remnants of the red planet’s once much larger magnetic field, NASA said.

JPL’s Sue Smrekar, InSight’s deputy principal investigator, said InSight’s data is made available to researchers through NASA’s Planetary Data System and is stored in an archive operated by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology — the first such Non-earth data included in the group.

Smrekar said InSight’s data is large enough to provide results “for decades”.

insight-lander-before

The InSight lander just after its arrival on Mars, captured on December 6, 2018

Once InSight misses two consecutive check-ins with orbiting Mars Relay Network satellites, the mission will be declared over and the task of monitoring for life signs will be handed off from InSight to NASA’s Deep Space Network, which will be listening for a while just in case Lander is revived.

Maybe solar on Mars isn’t the best idea?

While it might not be the best time to mention it, with InSight’s imminent demise, it’s worth pointing out that solar power simply may not be the best choice for a long-term space mission, and there’s strong evidence to support that conclusion.

“Weather on Mars is not rain and snow; Weather on Mars is dust and wind,” said Bruce Bandert, lead investigator of JPL’s InSight.

Dust doesn’t melt, meaning a random breeze must bring a lander back to life. Additionally, the strength of the sun on Mars is only about 44 percent that of Earth, meaning much less solar energy gets to the panels, even when they’re clean.

And while InSight has still exceeded its projected duration (which are always conservative estimates), it’s still nothing compared to the duration of the nuclear-powered Curiosity rover mission, which NASA was aiming to operate for two years when it hit the red in 2012 planet landed. NASA was quick to extend Curiosity’s mission duration to “indefinite,” believing it has a potential 55 years of power.

Do you think you will see a solar panel on this rover? No – it runs entirely on electricity generated by the radioactive decay of a 10.6 lb (4.8 kg) chunk of plutonium dioxide.

NASA has used similar power systems for other vehicles, like the Apollo moon missions, Viking Mars missions, and others, and said the system is safe enough not to pose a health risk “unless it’s used in very fine pieces are broken up or vaporized and then inhaled or swallowed.” Even then, the expected radiation dose would be negligible, NASA said.

Expect that dose to be even lower if a human astronaut could take a trip to Curiosity, which could easily still be spinning around if humans make it to the red planet in the 2030s.

A visit to the solar-powered InSight, on the other hand, would be a memorial trip to talk about what might have been different if only the lander had been equipped with a more reliable power source. ®

https://www.theregister.com/2022/11/02/insight_mars_nasa_shutdown/ InSight Mars Lander has just “weeks” of power left • The Register

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