NASA’s InSight Mars lander hides in the Red Planet’s dust storm

One of NASA’s Mars robots is in safe mode to save power while a dust storm prevents its solar panels from charging.

The InSight lander, which is designed to study the interior of Mars, is stable in its safe mode, which the spacecraft launched on Jan. 7, the agency said in a status update. mission published Tuesday, January 11. The lander communicated safely with ground controllers on Monday (January 10) despite the temporary measure to weather a regional dust storm.

“Its power was holding up and, although weak, it was unlikely to drain the lander’s batteries,” NASA officials wrote. For now, that consistent power likely means InSight won’t face the same demise as the longtime Opportunity Mars rover, which fell silent in 2018 during a series of global dust storms that eventually drained the rover’s batteries.

Mars InSight in pictures: NASA is on a mission to probe the heart of the Red Planet

InSight, which landed on the Red Planet in 2018, was already operating at reduced power due to normal dust buildup on its two solar panels. Engineers reduced the dust on a panel somewhat in 2021 by using a shovel on the lander’s robotic arm to throw dust into the wind, but “these activities become increasingly difficult as energy increases. available is decreasing,” NASA officials wrote in the new update.

Indeed, reduced power is one of the biggest threats to the mission and could end InSight’s operations in 2022, the agency said last year. The threat comes from a combination of the planet reaching its greatest distance from the sun last year and seasonal cycles of dust activity in the atmosphere, mission staff said at the time.

Predictions are, however, that InSight should have enough power at the moment to survive this particular dust event, although the agency said it hopes to control the lander more in the coming days to conserve energy. .

NASA's InSight lander took this image of the area ahead on July 20, 2021.

NASA’s InSight lander took this image of the area ahead on July 20, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“InSight engineers hope to be able to order the lander out of safe mode next week,” NASA said. “This will allow more flexibility in the operation of the lander, since communication, which requires a relatively large amount of power, is limited in safe mode to save battery power.”

Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, have benefited from periodic dusting events due to windy conditions on Mars. But such an event has not yet happened to InSight, even though the lander has detected the passage of several vortices, according to NASA.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

About Cecil Cobb

Check Also

REVIEW: Grappling with the Horror of Stranger Things 4

Nearly three years after the debut of the previous season, the fourth season of Netflix’s …