NASA's InSight mission to Mars is running out of power.
This summer, NASA’s InSight Mars lander will cease science operations as its power slowly exhausts. With the lander expected to be down by December, The InSight team will have completed a mission that has detected over 1,300 tremors, the most recent magnitude five quake that occurred on May 4. InSight has been crucial in pinpointing tremor-prone regions on Mars.
These marsquakes have provided scientific data on Mars’ crust, mantle, and core. As well as recording invaluable meteorological data, InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport) has studied remnants of Mars’ ancient magnetic field.
“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 Mars’ inner structure to Earth, the Moon, Venus, and even rocky planets in other solar systems.”
InSight and Mars
November 26, 2018, marked the touchdown of NASA’s InSight on Mars. Designed to complete the mission’s primary science goals during its first Martian year (roughly two Earth years), InSight is equipped with solar panels that measure 7 feet wide (2.2 meters). Now that the spacecraft has achieved its goals, it is on an extended mission, while its solar panels produce less power as dust accumulates.
Later this month, the team will put the lander’s robotic arm into its resting position (known as the retirement pose) due to the reduced power.
The robotic arm has played a crucial role in the mission. Its purpose was to deploy the seismometer and the heat probe that protected InSight. But scientists used the robotic arm to help bury the heat probe after tricky Martian terrain gave the probe issues.
Experts used the robotic arm also to remove dust from the solar panels. This allowed InSight’s seismometer to operate more often than it would have initially, which has directly contributed to more discoveries on Mars.
The biggest issue for Insight is dust, and on Mars, there is plenty of it. The more dust accumulates on the panels, the less power they can generate.
On Mars, InSight’s solar panels generated around 5000 watt-hours per sol (Martian day), sufficient to power an electric oven for about an hour and forty minutes. By the end of the year, they expect to have produced roughly 500 watt-hours per day, enough to power the same electric oven for just ten minutes.
The seasons on Mars will not be helping out InSight with its dust problem.
Elysium Planitia, the location of InSight on Mars, has begun to experience seasonal changes. Dust will continue to accumulate in the air over the next few months, reducing sunlight and the lander’s ability to harness energy. The research team has noted that although previous efforts have been made to remove some dust, a more powerful dust-cleaning event is needed to reverse this trend, such as a “dust devil” (a passing whirlwind).
As of writing, the InSight lander has snapped 6,554 photographs on Mars and worked for 1,235 Sols on the red planet. The InSight lander is also measuring the weather on Mars, and you can check it out here.
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