The InSight Mars lander will cease science operations for the next few months due to a drop in power supply, mission officials said at a press conference on May 17.
Martian dust covering the solar panels reduced the amount of power to about 500 watt hours per day or sol on Mars. When InSight landed in November 2018, the solar panels were producing around 5,000 watt-hours per ground.
“At the end of the calendar year, we expect to have to wrap up all InSight operations,” Kathya Zamora Garcia, InSight’s deputy project manager, said during the briefing, “not because we want the switch off, but unfortunately we don’t have the energy to make it work.”
But by the end of the mission, InSight’s tenure will have lasted nearly twice as long as originally planned (four Earth years instead of the planned two years) and over its lifetime it has detected more than 1,300 earthquakes. March.
Recently, the lander detected its largest earthquake to date and the largest earthquake ever detected on another world: a magnitude 5 event. The mission collected unprecedented data on the structure and the interior of Mars.
“One of InSight’s legacies is that it really proves the technique of seismology for planetary science,” InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt said at the press conference. “We were able to map the interior of Mars for the first time in history.”
“InSight has transformed our understanding of the interiors of rocky planets and set the stage for future missions,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “We can apply what we’ve learned about the internal structure of Mars to Earth, the Moon, Venus, and even rocky planets in other solar systems.”
InSight’s solar panels are increasingly covered in Martian dust. The team has long hoped that a dust devil could knock the dust off the panels, as happened with the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers. Alas, no luck. But the creative engineering team took matters into their own hands, or robotic arm.
Since Mars 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 pick up Martian soil and drop it on the edge of the solar panels, which attracted dust already on the panels to the new dust.
This nifty trick increased InSight’s power output by about 5% each time, and the maneuver was successfully performed six times, Garcia said.
The dust buildup will likely only get worse as Mars now enters winter, when more dust is aloft in the atmosphere and less sunlight will be available.
Due to reduced power, the team will soon put the lander’s robotic arm into its resting position (called the “retreat pose”) for the final time later this month (see image below). above).
The team said that if only 25% of InSight’s panels were swept away by wind, the lander would gain around 1,000 watt-hours per ground, enough to continue collecting scientific data. However, at the current rate of decreasing power, InSight’s non-seismic instruments will rarely be activated after the end of May.
Now they prioritize powering the lander’s seismometer, which will operate at certain times of the day, such as at night, when winds are low and earthquakes are easier to “hear” for the seismometer. They expect the seismometer to be shut down by the end of the summer, which will conclude the science phase of the mission.
By then, InSight might have enough power to take the occasional photo and communicate with Earth. But the team expects that around December the power will be low enough that one day InSight will simply stop responding.
This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.