The InSight Mars lander is covered in dust? – Sciencetimes

Mars InSight lander with solar panels

NASA’s InSight (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) Mars lander is gradually losing power. According to the InSight team, they expect all science activity on the lander to be shut down by the end of this summer, roughly. He also predicted that the lander would no longer work by December. What is happening to the InSight lander?

Solar cells in 2018 (left), solar cells in 2022 (right) © InSight/NASA

Currently, the most active rover on Mars is Curiosity. The reason is simple. This is because, like other rovers and landers, it does not introduce a solar-rechargeable lithium-ion battery and is equipped with a nuclear battery. The use of nuclear cells has the disadvantage of being very heavy at launch, but it is not affected by the sun on dusty Mars. Also, there is no need to worry about the darkening of the Martian climate.

On the other hand, if a solar cell is installed, it has the advantage of being very light in launch and using low-cost energy, but considering the distance from the sun to Mars, the energy efficiency is not very high. In addition, if dust accumulates on the solar panel, it is difficult to obtain power and the energy generation efficiency is greatly reduced.

Unfortunately, InSight carried a pair of solar panels, each about 2.2 meters wide. Also, since it is a lander rather than a rover that can navigate the plains of Mars, it cannot charge the main body by receiving solar heat while moving around. After all, the expected life expectancy was also rather short, about two years Earth time.

The InSight mission, which is gradually losing its momentum, is expected to end by the end of this year.

In fact, in April 2021, dust accumulated on the InSight lander’s solar panels, which prevented it from getting enough power and went to sleep. The biggest problem is that the Elysium Plains on Mars, where the InSight lander landed, are not very windy. So, there was no way to get rid of the thick dust on the solar panel, and the InSight team began looking for ways to increase the efficiency of solar power generation. To shake off dust from the solar panels, the research team started sanding the side of the solar panels with one robotic arm of the InSight lander, and came up with a way to blow the dust off the windshield. This in turn helped a lot in removing dust from the panel, resulting in an increase in energy of about 30 watt-hours (Wh) per day.

A selfie from the InSight probe sent in 2019, it’s already starting to be covered in dust in 2019. © InSight/NASA

When InSight landed on Mars, the solar panels generated approximately 5,000 watt-hours (Wh) of electricity each day (equivalent to powering an electric oven for 1 hour and 40 minutes). However, as of May 2022, it was confirmed that the power level of the InSight lander was only about 500 watt-hours, enough to power the same electric oven for 10 minutes.

It also predicts that the InSight lander’s landing site, Elysium Planitia, will create more dust in the air over the next several months and reduce the amount of sunlight the lander can receive. The InSight team is also looking forward to dust-cleaning events like those seen on the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, according to Dr. Bruce Banerdt, senior researcher at InSight’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. However, the forecast is for seasonal changes that are too harsh to anticipate some dust-clearing conditions like in 2021. Although the InSight lander has already successfully completed two years of scheduled research, it is believed that a strong dust-sweeping event such as a tornado will be required to continue scientific exploration activities longer.

Solar cells in 2018 (left), solar cells in 2022 (right) © InSight/NASA

Even if only 25% of the dust accumulated on the InSight lander’s solar panels was swept away, the lander could gain about 1,000 watt-hours of additional power per day. Although this level of power is sufficient for the lander to collect data and perform activities, the situation is not positive for the InSight lander as the power of the InSight lander continues to decrease.

According to the InSight team, in 2021, the robotic arm used to sweep the dust will soon be in a stationary position (called a “retirement position”). This is because the lander’s energy will be used first for seismograph analysis (it will be used intensively at certain times of the day, such as at night, when winds are weak and seismographs are easier to record Martian seismic activity). Therefore, energy supply to the seismograph itself is expected to continue until the end of May.

NASA’s InSight mission provides insight into Mars research

As part of NASA’s Discovery Program, the InSight mission, which left Earth to explore Mars, is a mission to uncover the mysteries of Mars through cooperation with the European Space Agency and many European research institutes.

The InSight Mars lander, which landed on the Elysium plain near the equator of Mars on November 26, 2018, eastern time in the United States, has detected more than 1,300 Martian earthquakes so far, including the recent magnitude 5 earthquake on May 4, and through these We succeeded in mapping this prone area. For reference, a magnitude 5 earthquake is not a very large earthquake compared to Earth, but it is understood to have a magnitude that exceeds the limit of the predicted earthquake on Mars. It is also the largest ever detected on any other planet.

InSight mission to detect a recent magnitude 5 earthquake on May 4 © InSight/NASA, JPL, ETH Zurich

Seismic information collected by the InSight probe from the Red Planet allowed scientists to measure the depth and composition of Mars’ crust, mantle, and core, and successfully collected valuable meteorological data from Mars. It has also been of great help in studying the remains of Mars’ ancient magnetic field.

Dr. Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division, said that the InSight Mars lander mission has increased our insight into the interior of the rocky planet and prepares us for future missions. He argued that the knowledge of the internal structure of Mars could be applied to Earth, the Moon, Venus, and even other rocky planets in the solar system.

[ InSight미션이 지구로 보내온 화성 연구 관련 이미지들 보러 가기 ]

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