NASA’s InSight rover seen from orbit covered in dust

(ORDO NEWS) — The accumulation of dust on NASA‘s InSight JPL Mars probe is large enough to even be seen from orbit.

The high-definition image on the right, taken on April 9 from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, shows red Martian regolith covering the landing platform it landed on in November 2018.

The image on the left shows the craft just after it landed in November 2018, as well as the parachute that helped the mission reach the surface.

The spacecraft’s High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) instrument is often tasked with taking detailed images of spacecraft on the surface, especially when the robots find themselves in challenging environments.

In January, the InSight probe briefly went into safe mode after so much dust got onto its solar panels that solar power was scarce, although power production has since recovered.

“Long-term tracking of changes in places like the InSight landing area tells us how dust moves across Mars and helps us understand how the surface evolves over time,” the University of Arizona, which operates HiRISE, said Friday (April 15).

The agency said in a February announcement that it expects power to continue only until the middle of the year or so.

“The solar panels on NASA’s InSight spacecraft are producing almost as much power as they did before the January storm. This level of energy will allow the satellite to continue scientific operations into the summer,” the update says.

InSight, which landed on the Red Planet in 2018, ran at reduced power for some time due to dust buildup on its dual solar panels.

Engineers managed to remove some dust on one of the panels in 2021 by sanding it. But InSight was not lucky enough to get a powerful gust of wind to brush off the dust along with the sand.

As a result, NASA warned last year that declining power availability could shut down InSight in 2022. The problem is exacerbated by the natural orbital cycle of Mars.

In 2021, the planet has reached its greatest distance from the Sun, which has weakened the influx of solar energy, and the seasonal cycles of dust activity are gaining momentum.

The InSight descent vehicle, designed for one Martian year (687 Earth days), is aimed at studying the interior of Mars, in particular, at observing tremors on the Red Planet, which are called marsquakes.


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