(ORDO NEWS) — During a recent dust storm that engulfed several regions of Mars , so much dust accumulated on the solar panels of the InSight lander that, according to NASA scientists and engineers, the lander is most likely on its “last gasp”.
Although InSight has recovered from a strong January storm, a gradual but significant accumulation of dust on the solar panels of the module dramatically reduces its power level to the point that by the end of 2022 the device may go completely offline.
InSight chief investigator Bruce Banerdt told InSight’s mission meeting that the Jan. 7 dust storm started “very quickly” and without “any early warning.”
The InSight promptly went into “safe mode” to wait out the bad weather, but that didn’t protect it from dust accumulating on the solar panels. According to Banerdt, this will eventually cause the module to be permanently disabled.
InSight prepares to retire
Banerdt predicted last summer that dust on InSight’s solar panels — a problem that other NASA Mars landers don’t seem to have because the planet’s winds are likely to clear it up — would kill the lander by spring 2022. The date of InSight’s “funeral” has been moved to the end of the year, but, nevertheless, this event, most likely, cannot be avoided.
“Our current projections show that the energy will fall below the level required to operate the [tools] payload between May and June, and likely below the survivability level somewhere towards the end of the year,” Banerdt said.
To delay the inevitable, NASA has had InSight perform a clever operation since last year in which the craft lightly slams its bucket on the solar arrays, causing Martian dust to roll off the surface.
However, this did not save the solar panels from the “caked” layers of dust, which, unfortunately, cannot be removed remotely. Each such operation, as Banerdt notes, increased energy output by only 1-3 percent, which is generally pointless.
Despite the difficult situation, the InSight team still submitted a request to NASA for an extension of the lander mission, which is funded until the end of 2022. Experts still hope that an effective “clean-up event” will be devised that will save InSight.
Contact us: [email protected]