Science

Huge Mars Dust Storm Sends NASA’s InSight Lander Into Safe Mode

This illustration shows NASA’s Mars Insight lander on the surface of Mars. credit: NASA

The probe took measures to conserve energy; Engineers aim to return to normal operations next week.
NASAThe InSight lander is stable and sends health data from Mars to Earth after transitioning to safe mode on Friday, January 7, after a major regional dust storm reduced sunlight reaching solar panels. In safe mode, the spacecraft stops all but its basic functions.

The mission team reconnected with InSight on January 10, finding that its power was constant and, although reduced, was unlikely to drain the landing batteries. Drained batteries are believed to have caused the end of NASA’s rover during an epic series of dust storms that blanketed the Red Planet in 2018.

Even before this latest dust storm, dust had been accumulating on InSight’s solar panels, reducing the power supply to the lander’s lander. Using a scoop on the vehicle’s robotic arm, the InSight team came up with an innovative way to reduce dust on a single board, gaining multiple bursts of energy through 2021, but these activities are becoming increasingly challenging as available power decreases.

Insight Selfie

This portrait of NASA’s InSight lander rover is a mosaic of 14 images taken on March 15 and April 11, 2019 — the mission’s Mars 106 and 133 days or Sol — by InSight’s Instrument Deployment Camera, located on its robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dust storms can affect solar panels in two ways: Dust reduces the filtering of sunlight through the atmosphere, and it can also build up on the panels. It remains to be determined whether this storm will leave an extra layer of dust on the solar panels.

The current dust storm was first detected by the Mars Imaging Color Camera (MARCI) aboard NASA’s Mars Exploration Orbiter, which creates daily color maps of the entire planet. These maps allow scientists to monitor dust storms and could serve as an early warning system for spacecraft on Mars. The InSight team has received data indicating that the regional storm has receded.

Whirlwinds and winds from dust storms have helped clear solar panels over time, as with the Spirit and Mars Opportunity missions. While InSight’s weather sensors detected many passing tornadoes, none of them removed any dust.

InSight engineers hope to be able to steer the lander out of safe mode next week. This will allow more flexibility in the operation of the probe, because the connection, which requires a relatively large amount of power, is limited in safe mode to keep the battery charged.

InSight landed on Mars on November 26, 2018, to study the planet’s internal structure, including its crust, mantle, and core. The spacecraft achieved its science goals before its main mission ended a year ago. NASA then extended the mission for up to two years, through December 2022, on the recommendation of an independent review panel composed of experts with backgrounds in science, operations, and mission management.

More about the mission

Jet Propulsion Laboratory He directs InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, which is managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Denver’s Lockheed Martin Space has built the InSight spacecraft, including a cruise stage and lander, and supports the mission’s spacecraft operations.

A number of European partners, including the French National Center for Space Studies (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. The National Center for Space Studies has provided the Inner Structure Seismic Experiment (SEIS) instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP (Institute of Physics in the World in Paris). Significant contributions to the Common Environmental Information System came from the IPGP; Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial University of London the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom; and JPL. The DLR provided the Heat Flow Instrument and Physical Characteristics Kit (HP3), with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. The Centro de Astrobiology Center (CAB) in Spain supplied temperature and wind sensors.

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