Insight Mars Lander is losing power and will face dusty sinking in July, NASA says

A NASA spacecraft on Mars is heading for a dusty doom.

The Insight lander is losing power because of all the dust on its solar panels. NASA said Tuesday it will continue to use the spacecraft’s seismometer to register marquakes until power goes off, likely in July. Then air traffic controllers will monitor InSight until the end of this year before canceling everything.

“There really wasn’t too much doom and gloom in the team. We’re really still focused on the operations of the spacecraft,” said Bruce Banerdt, principal scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Since landing on Mars in 2018, InSight has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes; the largest, a magnitude 5, occurred two weeks ago.

It will be NASA’s second Mars lander lost to dust: A global dust storm destroyed Opportunity in 2018. In the case of InSight, it was a gradual accumulation of dust, especially over the past year.

NASA’s other working spacecraft on the surface of Mars — the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers — are still going strong, thanks to nuclear power. The space agency could reconsider solar power for Mars in the future, said Lori Glaze, director of planetary sciences, or at least experiment with new panel-clearing technology or target less stormy seasons.

InSight is currently generating a tenth of the energy from the sun as it did on arrival. Associate project manager Kathya Zamora Garcia said the lander initially had enough power to run an electric furnace for an hour and 40 minutes; Now it’s only a maximum of 10 minutes.

The InSight team had anticipated so much dust accumulation but hoped that a gust of wind or a dust devil could wipe the solar panels away. That has not happened yet, although several thousand cyclones are approaching.

“None of them really hit us, but enough to blow the dust off the panels,” Banerdt told reporters.

Another scientific instrument called a mole was supposed to dig 5 meters deep into the earth to measure the internal temperature of Mars. But the German excavator never got deeper than a few feet because of the red soil’s unexpected composition and was eventually pronounced dead early last year. Insight Mars Lander is losing power and will face dusty sinking in July, NASA says

Ryan Sederquist

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