Monday, 19 November, 2018

Opportunity rover goes dark during Mars dust storm

Nasa's brave Mars Rover could be killed by massive Martian dust storm Artist’s impression of a rover on the surface of Mars
Doris Mccormick | 16 June, 2018, 05:14

The NASA's Opportunity Mars Rover was caught in the middle of a massive Mars dust storm which forced the rover to halt all its operations except communications.

Opportunity has seen a lot in its time on Mars - including another powerful dust storm, which the rover weathered in 2007. Thus, NASA can very well announce the "death" of the Curiosity rover, news which shouldn't come as a surprise, considering that the older Spirit Mars rover has ended up in the same way, in 2010.

Opportunity is the second Rover space Agency NASA, which was launched in the framework of the project Mars Exploration Rover. "So there's a very good chance it will not survive the dust storm".

Maxwell, who left NASA in 2013 for Google, notes in the spirit of anthropomorphizing common to those involved with rovers, "She did more than anyone expected from her or ever could have expected from her, and if we can all say that at the end of our lives, then we'll be as lucky as she is". That's survivable for the rover, which was created to tolerate temperatures as low as minus 67 degrees F (minus 55 degrees C). Opportunity is now enduring complete darkness 24 hours a day, and its power levels have dropped precipitously as a result - from 645 watt-hours on June 2 to about 22 watt-hours on Sunday (June 10), Callas said.

NASA's Opportunity mission can rightly be called the rover that just wouldn't quit. In just two or three days, it will likely encircle the entire planet - a milestone only about a dozen Martian dust storms have achieved in recorded history, NASA officials said. A Martian storm, which has since grown to occupy an area larger than North America - 18 million km² (7 million mi²) - was blowing in over rover's position in the Perseverance Valley.

Experts said it could take weeks or months until the sky is clear enough for sunlight to reach the surface and power up Opportunity's battery pack.

It also showed the rover's temperature to be around -29C.

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NASA scientists said the rover should start communicating again once the storm clears. "As we work to pave the way for when human explorers arrive, it will be essential that we learn to monitor and hopefully predict these storms in order to help ensure the safety of the crew".

"The analogy I would use right now is it's like you have a loved one in a coma in the hospital", Callas said.

"Having this dust storm occur under the visibility of the whole fleet of orbiters that we have, and eventually Curiosity participating in the research as well, is going to teach us a whole lot about how these storms behave", he added later in the briefing. The clock is programmed to wake the rover's computer to check power levels. Within a few days, the rover's view was growing dimmer and its solar panels were generating less and less energy. And as it turns out, as bad as the dust is for the solar panels, it's good in a different way. The CubeSats, named Mars Cube One and Two, won't collect science data or land, but they're tests for future small-scale deployments.

Spirit has not worked for several years, but Opportunity has kept exploring well past its expected mission lifetime. It also has one arthritic arm (NASA's term, not ours) and has lost some of its steering capacity.

"Full dust storms like this one are not surprising, but are infrequent", NASA said in a status report.

The robotic vehicle - one of two now operating on Mars - has shut everything down except its master clock, and last communicated with Earth on June 10.

Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 for what was supposed to be a 90-day mission. Its longevity has taught us much about operating on Mars.

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