NASA’s Mars InSight lander slowly died of dust last week. For months and months, the robot, built to study tectonic activity on the Red Planet, has been running on less and less energy as the 25-square-foot (4.2 square meters) solar panel disappears. slowly under a thick blanket of dust. . On Wednesday (Dec. 21), NASA announced that it hadn’t heard from the astronaut in days, officially declaring the mission dead.
InSightthat settled in the apartment, which seemed to be of no interest to Elysium Planitiasouth of Mars‘ equator in November 2018, exceeding the expected duration of the mission by two years. However, many questioned whether anything could have been done to save the healthy robot, which was still providing amazing science about life inside Mars.
Related: NASA’s Mars InSight lander completes mission after losing power
Costs versus benefits
To a Twitter thread (opens in a new tab)published nearly six weeks before InSight’s final demise, NASA described the challenges engineers faced in creating the infamous Mars mission.
“People often ask: do I have no way to clean myself (wiper, blower, etc.)? It’s a valid question, and the short answer is this,” NASA wrote in the Twitter account of the lander. “Such a system would have added cost, weight, and complexity. The easiest, most cost-effective way to achieve my goals was to bring in enough solar power to power all my work – which they did (and now others!).”
Dust storm season
When space agencies send humans to Mars, they usually try to avoid the planet dust storm season, which occurs during Mars’ northern autumn and winter seasons. A year’s departure from Mars takes two The world over the years, most of the landers and the latest rovers, including InSight, have been able to get through many periods of dust storms. The Curiosity rover, now in its 11th year on Mars and still going strong, has seen plenty of dust storms. The rover even make measurements (opens in a new tab) of the ever-changing amount of dust collected in the cellars and on its floor, revealing how seasonal winds and demonic dust help the criminals to continue for a long time. As it turns out, InSight wasn’t so lucky when it came to Mars’ natural cleaning help.
No washing the devil’s dust cars
Dust demons have famously been seen cleaning up NASA’s older generation of Mars rovers, Spirit (opens in a new tab) and Opportunity. Opportunity, in particular, was able to continue its mission for more than 14 years, many times over its three-month lifespan. Often the devil’s dust is swept away and wind-driven cleanup events played an important role in that record-breaking mission. Finally, a The big dust storm in 2019 finally defeated the little rovercompletes its record discovery tour.
According to Mike Williams, a Senior Engineer at Airbus Defense and Space, who is currently considering a dust protection system for Rosalind Franklin’s European ExoMars roverInSight appeared to be “in a particularly unfavorable position for dust removal.”
Tilting solar panels
Williams believes that NASA’s method of passive solar panels is the best, safest and cheapest when it comes to the Mars dust probe. However, Airbus is currently looking at the possibility of adding dedicated dust protection, and they have plenty of time to do so. The project, built in cooperation with Russia, was stopped after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The planned September launch was cancelled, and Airbus is now keeping the ExoMars rover in a clean room as some key components, which were built by Russia, must be replaced.
Williams told Space.com: “Making the size of the clusters is able to control the low amount of sunlight that reaches them because of the dust.” “It is the lowest level of complexity. It requires the least number of subsystems and functions and therefore has the lowest risk. From a project planning point of view, it is definitely the the most popular way to do it.”
Williams said that when the ExoMars mission began, engineers adopted a number of dust cleaning technologies, including brushes, wipers, gas blowers and electrostatic wipers to remove dust. At that time, they decided that the rover, whose mission to Oxia Planum was scheduled to last only 180 Martian days, or sols, did not need to clean itself. With a new start date not expected before 2028, they are rethinking their approach.
“As ExoMars is being reborn, we’re looking to restore some of that capability,” Williams said. “We could use something like tilting the solar panel to maybe remove that dust. It would also help to point the panels right into the sun, which could have some benefits.”
Williams added that Airbus engineers, like those at NASA, must accept the fact that ExoMars, like any other spacecraft on Mars, will eventually fall to dust, and will not be disappointed if the rover is I continued with its lifelong mission. Although they hope to find help in the Martian climate like Wind and Chance.
“Well, that’s the way it goes with space missions, unfortunately,” Williams said.
InSight’s cleanup effort
Although InSight was not designed to dust itself, NASA made a last-ditch effort to help the lander remove dust in the final months of its life when the amount of electricity produced by its panels is decreasing.
In May, ground controllers ordered InSight’s robotic arm to spray sand on one of the dust-covered panels. As the wind blew the grains of sand over the panel, they actually picked up more dust on the road, reducing the thickness of the dust blanket that blocks the sun.
This process enabled the shuttle to achieve 30 hours of power during that time, according to NASA. a statement (opens in a new tab).
In the end, nature won. As it always does. And InSight didn’t go down without a fight.
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