Home / Science / Reduced Power Supply Could End NASA’s InSight Mars Mission Next Year – Spaceflight Now

Reduced Power Supply Could End NASA’s InSight Mars Mission Next Year – Spaceflight Now

One of the InSight solar panels on the left is covered with dust in this photo. Taken in May. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Without an accidental whirlwind to remove dust from solar panels, NASA’s InSight lander could end its Mars mission in a year due to reduced power levels. The project’s chief scientist said last week.

“We have an extended mission of two years, which should take us towards the end of calendar 2022 if we can live on Mars that long,” said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt.

InSight landed on Mars in November 2018 with the aim of measuring seismic activity and studying the depths of the Red Planet. Despite some hurdles with one of the two main instruments, InSight has achieved all its highest-level mission goals, Banerdt said at the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group meeting on June 21.

InSight’s two-year primary mission ended at the end of 2020, and NASA approved a two-year extension to continue measuring the mission.

Banerdt said the spacecraft was “Severe solar power problems” after dust accumulates on solar panels The solar energy crisis is on. “Limits our ability to measure scientifically. and is likely to end the mission eventually,” he said.

Mission planners know that dust accumulation on the lander’s solar panels can limit the mission’s lifespan. But officials hope gusts of wind or dust demons may periodically wipe out the fan-shaped array. Until now that hasn’t happened.

“All of this was anticipated before we launched,” Banerdt said. “We are designed to be able to accomplish our core missions with ample profit. We look forward to being cleaned. But it didn’t happen.”

Banerdt says the InSight Lander’s two fan-shaped solar panels are only 20 percent efficient.

“There is a lot of dust collecting on the solar panels,” he said.

Mars is approaching aphelion on July 12, which is the furthest point from the Sun. That’s when InSight’s solar panels receive the minimum amount of energy from the sun. And the temperature at the spacecraft’s landing point will be near its minimum.

“That would be a real challenge to implement, especially with the tool,” Banerd said.

The ground team at JPL has managed to get InSight’s seismometers to work while the landing worker’s energy levels declined. at a time Scientists expect the lander’s entire science payload to be shut down for six months.

the best That would result in huge data gaps in InSight’s worst scientific results. Authorities were worried that InSight would not be able to survive the treacherous moment around aphelion.

Now managers are hoping the landers can get through it in the coming months. And there’s a chance the seismometer will still work.

“Other sensors Most of them are switched off or in use from time to time,” Banerdt said. “This has resulted in an unfortunate hole in the meteorological and magnetic data we have maintained over the past year on Mars.

“We have allocated on time the tools to support energy reduction. and we may have to turn off all loads for a period of one aphelion cycle,” he said.

“We think we should pass through the Strait of Ephelion here. But we are not sure.”

InSight’s ground team has devised a new method to help remove dust from the vehicle’s solar panels. Use the scoop on the robotic end of the lander. Controllers have gathered sand from the surface of Mars and sprinkled the seeds over the winds of the solar panels.

The wind blows grains of sand across the solar panels. Dust off some of the dust. The first trial of this new technique resulted in approximately 30 watt-hours of power per sol. or a day on Mars

The news is a “very welcome” for the InSight team, Banerdt said.

InSight’s team has tried the same technique several times. Each side will increase the launch power of the lander “slightly,” he said.

“We believe we have a better understanding of how to do this,” Banerd said. “We may try again before the power is reduced to the point where we cannot use the robotic arm. But at least that gives us a little bit of space that we didn’t have before.”

Before trying to sprinkle sand on the solar panel. Engineers have sent commands to activate the spacecraft’s solar panel mounting motors to brush away the dust. but failed

When Mars begins to travel closer to the Sun More solar power will help InSight start generating more electricity. But the improvements may be temporary until next year’s dust storm season begins.

“In the middle of the next calendar year Around March/April 2022, the energy began to rapidly decline again due to the confluence of increased dust accumulation. due to the dusty atmosphere and the orbital geometry of Mars,” Banerdt said. We should probably end our mission around that time next year.”

Artist’s concept of InSight Lander on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

InSight’s French seismometer has recorded 630 earthquakes to date, according to Banerdt. Scientists confirmed that InSight had detected the first “earthquake” in early 2019.

Banerdt said the five earthquakes were “Gold standard events” with seismic procedures and clear polarization data to help locate the source of the tremors.

Another 106 places clearly observed seismic and phase signs. but no polarization Virtually all of them were confirmed to be actual earthquakes, Banerdt said.

He said other earthquake signals Many more are prone to real earthquakes. but has not been confirmed.

Of the five earthquakes that confirmed their location, all occurred in the Cerberus Fossae region, the site of the trenches that scientists previously hypothesized could be created from faults where parts of the Martian surface were isolated. Aside, InSight’s findings confirm that the region is seismically active.

InSight’s other mainstream tool is the German-developed Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3.

The main component of the HP3 instrument is a 16-inch (40 cm) self-hammered probe that is supposed to be dug into the Martian soil to measure the thermal slope in the top layer of the Earth’s crust. Metal probe with an umbilical cord at the end A depth of at least 10 feet (3 meters) is required to provide expected scientific data.

However, the mole returned only about a foot or 30 centimeters below the surface before its progress was halted. The ground team tried for almost two years to get the mole into the Martian crust. This included trying to use a scoop on InSight’s robotic arm to help push the probe into the ground.

But the effort turned out to be empty. And the mission manager retired the mole in January.

Banerdt said the instrument is returning some data on the thermal conductivity of the top layer of Martian soil.

Although the tools have problems and the power generation is reduced. As expected, Banerdt said InSight was a success. This mission is the first to detect Marsquakes. It provides insights into the interior of Mars that will help scientists chart the evolution of Mars and compare the planet’s evolution to Earth’s evolution.

Some of the findings are pending publication in scientific journals.

“Ultimately, this is a payoff of 25 to 30 years of effort that many of us in the geophysics community and on the InSight team have,” Banerdt said. “I think we have broken our theoretical models of formation and evolution. of Mars already.”

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