NASA announces InSight rover on Mars has only a few months left

(ORDO NEWS) — The InSight rover will cease scientific operations in the next few months due to power cuts, mission leaders said at a May 17 press conference.

Martian dust covering the solar panels has reduced the amount of energy to about 500 watt-hours per Martian day, or sol. When InSight landed in November 2018, the solar panels were generating about 5,000 watt-hours for every sol.

“At the end of the calendar year, we expect that we will have to complete all InSight operations,” Katia Zamora Garcia, InSight’s Deputy Project Manager, said at the briefing, “not because we want to shut it down, but unfortunately we don’t have the power to run it. work”.

But by the end of the mission, InSight will have been operating for almost twice as long as originally thought (four Earth years instead of the planned two years), and during that time it will detect more than 1,300 earthquakes.

Recently, the device recorded the largest quake, as well as the strongest earthquake ever recorded on other planets: magnitude 5. The mission collected unprecedented data on the structure and internal structure of Mars.

“One of the legacies of InSight is that it really proves the use of seismology for planetary science,” Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator, said during a press conference. “For the first time in history, we were able to map the inner surface of Mars.”

“InSight has changed our understanding of the interior of rocky planets and laid the foundation for future missions,” said Lori Gleizes, director of NASA’s Division of Planetary Sciences. “We can apply our knowledge of the internal structure of Mars to the Earth, the Moon, Venus and even rocky planets in other solar systems.”

InSight solar panels are increasingly covered in Martian dust. The team had long hoped that the dust devil would be able to clear the panels of dust, as happened with the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. Alas, no luck. But a creative team of engineers took matters into their own hands, or a robotic arm.

Because Martian dust is charged with static electricity, they took advantage of its magnetic properties on windy days to try and clean the panels. InSight was instructed to scoop up Martian soil and drop it on the edge of the solar panels, causing the dust already on the panels to be attracted to the new dust.

This clever trick increased InSight’s power output by about 5 percent each time, and the maneuver was successfully performed six times, Garcia said.

The accumulation of dust is likely to only get worse as Mars enters winter, when there will be more dust in the atmosphere and less sunlight.

Due to reduced power, the team will put the robotic arm into a resting position (the so-called “retired pose”) later this month for the last time (see image above).

If only 25 percent of InSight’s panels were cleared of wind, the team said, the station would generate about 1,000 watt-hours in one solar period, enough to continue scientific collection. However, at the current rate of power reduction, non-seismic InSight instruments will rarely turn on after the end of May.

Now priority is given to powering the seismometer, which will work at certain times of the day, for example, at night, when the winds are weak and marsquakes are easier to “hear” for the seismometer. They expect that the seismometer will have to be turned off by the end of the summer, ending the science phase of the mission.

By then, InSight may have enough power to take random pictures and keep in touch with Earth. But the team expects power to be so low around December that one day InSight will simply stop responding.

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