NASA’s Mars Insight probe died a slow dusty death last week. For months and months, the robot, designed to study tectonic activity on the Red Planet, ran with less and less power as the 25-square-foot (4.2 square meter) solar array gradually disappeared under a thick blanket of dust. On Wednesday (December 21), NASA announced that it had not heard from the probe in days, officially declaring the mission dead.
insightAny I landed in a flat, uninteresting looking Elysium Planitia aquariumSouth MarsThe Equator in November 2018 exceeded the expected mission duration by two years. However, many wondered if anything could be done to save the perfectly intact humanoid robot, which was providing groundbreaking science about The inner life of Mars.
Cost versus benefit
in a Twitter topic (Opens in a new tab)Published about six weeks before InSight’s eventual demise, NASA explained the trade-offs engineers faced when designing a mission to the notoriously dusty Mars.
NASA wrote on the craft’s Twitter account: “People often ask: Don’t I have a way to get the dust off myself (mop, blower, etc.)? It’s a fair question, and the short answer is this.” “A system like that would have added cost, mass, and complexity. The simplest and most cost-effective way to achieve my goals was to bring in solar panels large enough to power my entire mission—which they (and then some!) did.”
Dust storm season
When sending landers to Mars, space agencies usually try to avoid the planet Dust storm season, which occur during the northern Martian fall and winter periods. Since a year on Mars lasts about two years Land For years, most modern landers and rovers, including InSight, have successfully weathered multiple dust storm seasons. the Curiosity roaming, which is now in its 11th year on Mars and still going strong, has had a few seasons of dust storms. Even the rover Take measurements (Opens in a new tab) of the changing amount of dust accumulating on sensors and their surface, revealing how monsoons and dust devils help rovers stay functioning for longer. As it turns out, InSight has been somewhat unlucky when it comes to Mars’ natural cleaning aids.
No dust devil car wash
Dust devils have been seen cleaning up NASA’s older generation of Mars rovers, Spirit (Opens in a new tab) And the opportunity. Opportunity, in particular, has managed to continue its mission for more than 14 years, exceeding its designed life of three months dozens of times. Regular dust devil combing Wind-induced clean-up events played an important role in this record-breaking task. In the end, A.J A huge dust storm in 2019 finally beat the little roverending her record-breaking expedition.
According to Mike Williams, chief engineer at Airbus Defense and Space, which is currently rethinking its approach to dust defense in European ExoMars vehicle Rosalind Franklinit appears that InSight was at a “particularly disadvantageous position to dust off”.
Tilt solar panels
Williams agrees that NASA’s approach to massive solar panels is the best, safest, and cheapest when it comes to dust-proof spacecraft for Mars exploration. However, Airbus is currently looking at the possibility of adding a dedicated dust defense capability, and they have plenty of time to do so. The mission, which was created in cooperation with Russia, was suspended in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A planned September launch has been cancelled, and Airbus is now storing the ExoMars rover in a clean room where some key components, originally made by Russia, must be replaced.
“Scaling the arrays to be able to manage less sunlight that gets to them due to dust is the best and simplest solution,” Williams told Space.com. “It’s the lowest level of complexity. It requires the fewest number of subsystems and functions and so it’s the least risky. From a mission design perspective, this is definitely the best way to do it.”
When the ExoMars mission was first conceived, Williams said, engineers thought of a slew of dust-cleaning technologies, including brushes, wipers, gas blowers, and electrostatic wipers to get rid of the dust. At the time, they determined that the rover, whose nominal mission at Oxia Planum is designed to last only 180 days on Mars, or Mars, need not self-clean. With the new launch date now expected not earlier than 2028, they are rethinking their approach again.
“With ExoMars now born, we’re looking to bring back some of that capability,” said Williams. “We could use something like tilting the solar panels to get some of that dust out. It would also help point the panels more efficiently at the sun, which could also have some benefits.”
Williams added that Airbus engineers, just like NASA, must come to terms with the fact that ExoMars, just like other Mars rovers, may eventually succumb to the dust, and wouldn’t be disappointed if the rover marginally outlived its designed mission. Although they’re hoping for some help from Mars weather just like Spirit and Opportunity.
“It’s just the way it goes with space missions, unfortunately,” Williams said.
InSight’s attempt at self-cleaning
Although InSight was not designed to wipe dust off itself, NASA made some recent attempts to help the probe remove some dust in the last months of its life as the amount of electricity generated by its panels dwindled.
In May, ground controllers ordered InSight’s robotic arm to sprinkle a bit of sand across one of the lander’s dust-covered panels. As the wind blew grains of sand across the plate, it actually picked up some dust along the way, thinning the blanket of dust blocking the sun.
The process enabled the probe to get about 30 watt-hours of energy for each passed day in that time, according to NASA. statment (Opens in a new tab).
In the end, nature won. as always. And InSight certainly didn’t go down without a fight.
“Devoted student. Bacon advocate. Beer scholar. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot. Typical coffee enthusiast.”