InSight probe may survive longer on Mars thanks to ‘good’ weather

InSight probe may survive longer on Mars thanks to ‘good’ weather
InSight probe may survive longer on Mars thanks to ‘good’ weather

The InSight spacecraft may still be able to breathe air to operate on Mars for a while longer, even with the accumulation of dust on its solar panels. Scientists had hoped that, with the excess dust, it could run out of power, but InSight is steadfast in collecting data and may be able to stay that way a little longer, if the weather on Mars cooperates — who knows, until January 2023. .

Since 2021, the mission team has estimated that excess dust would force the lander to “retire” this year. In May, they considered that InSight could continue to run for a while longer, and implemented a mode that would prioritize energy directed to its seismometer. Also, they implemented some changes to prevent her from going into safe mode.

InSight’s last “selfie”, captured in April 2022 (Image: Reproduction/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

According to Chuck Scott, the mission’s project manager, these actions gave the lander a new lease of life. “We changed our operations a little bit and we were lucky with the weather events on Mars because we didn’t experience big dust storms or anything like that,” he explained. Now, Mars is going through a season known for its dust storms — which, for now, is quieter than expected.

Scott noted that the planet’s weather forecasts do not appear to point to regional storms in the coming weeks. When InSight landed on Mars in 2018, it was able to produce 5,000 watts per hour each Martian day, about 40 minutes longer than Earth days. “Every time there’s a storm or something on Mars, the power goes out,” he said.

At the moment, InSight is producing about 400 watt-hours each sun (the name given to days on Mars), meaning it is at less than 10% of the capacity it had when it landed. The lander needs a minimum of 300 watt hours to keep its seismometer, communication system and basic functions active; therefore, if one day it fails to produce this energy, it will consume what energy is left in its battery for the last time.

“It’s going to get to a point where the battery is going to fail, and there’s no way to reset it,” Scott explained. They don’t know exactly how long the final charge drain might last, but it’s possible it could take a few years. “Based on what we’ve seen, we believe the probability of this happening during the period before the battery fails is perhaps 10%,” he suggested. This state will represent the end of the mission.

Until that moment arrives or major dust storms don’t occur, the team is working to get as much data as possible. “We’re still seeing tremors, we’re still seeing things in the seismometer,” added Scott, saying he expects these activities to continue until the end of the mission. “We’re just trying really hard to get as much science out of her, until the real end, when she actually ‘dies,’” he concluded.


The article is in Portuguese

Tags: InSight probe survive longer Mars good weather

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