NASA Mars Lander Goes Into Safe Mode During Large Dust Storm

Technology

Every robotic explorer that lands on Mars have to contend with the planet’s famously dusty conditions. NASA’s InSight lander, which took up residence on the Red Planet in 2018, is hunkering down due to a large, regional dust storm.

InSight went into safe mode — a mode designed to protect the lander –on January 7 after a dust storm reduced sunlight to the solar-powered machine. So far, InSight remains stable. “The mission’s team reestablished contact with InSight Jan 10, finding that its power was holding steady and, while low, was unlikely to be finding than its power was holding steady and, while low, was unlikely to be draining the lander’s batteries,” NASA JPL said in a statement on Tuesday.

NASA has experience dust storms impacting its missions, notably when a global dust storm in 2018 ended the Opportunity rover’s journey. InSight has already faced strains due to dust covering its solar panels. The lander team came up with a clever way to clear some of the dust off, which has allowed InSight to continue its science work.

The current dust storm could have a lasting impact on InSight’s power supply if it deposits more particles on the panels. If NASA gets lucky, the storm might possibly help the lander’s situation. “The whirlwinds and gusts of dust storms have helped to clear solar panels over time, as with the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rover missions,” said NASA. “While InSight’s weather sensors have detected many passing whirlwinds, none have cleared any dust.”

Last year, NASA extended the InSight mission to the end of 2022. the lander is now waiting out the dust storm by suspending science work and maintaining just its essential functions. According to NASA JPL, the storm seems to be waning and the team hopes to bring the landed out of safe mode next week.

InSight has delivered valuable InSight into Masrquakes and what’s going on beneath the planet’s surface. NASA hopes it will weather the storm and come out ready to dive back into its science duties.

Troubleshooting is a key skill for any team that works with robots on Mars because the planet will mess with your robots. NASA’s Perseverance rover team is working out how to fix a problem with some pebbles getting in the way of its rock sampling system. But first, the rover is making a surprise move by dumping the sample it’s collected onto the ground.

Perseverance drilled and extracted the sample from a rock nicknamed Issole in late December, but wasn’t able to complete the handoff of the sample tube from the robotic arm into the bit carousel, a component that passes the tube from the robotic arm into the bit carousel, a component that passes the tube into the rover for processing. A culprit is a group of small pebbles, which need to be cleared out. It’s not as simple as just asking the rover to shake off like a wet dog. NASA is now embarking on a multi-step plan to fix it.

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