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Covered in Martian Muck, NASA’s InSight Lander tests Tidy Itself Up

An InSight lander bush with its exposed solar panels.

An InSight lander bush with its exposed solar panels.
Illustration: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Dust has piled up everywhere. Driven by the Martian winds, he teased the InSight lander, whose solar panels – the source of his power – were covered in red stains. Now, NASA has announced a step in the right direction for the sedentary probe: Commanding it to drop earth to dust, they have been able to displace a portion of it, increasing the InSight power supply.

The counterproductive means to uncover the panels could not have come at a better time. Mars is approaching its aphelion, the farthest point of its orbit from the Sun, so InSight already needed to conserve energy. Although the team had prepared for lower power consumption during this point – InSight’s work is expected to begin at least 2022 – their data collection was stopped due to the dirt that the solar panels had become. In February, the panels operated at just over a quarter of their full capacity, according to a NASA version.

The team tried other methods to remove the dust from the car, which is located on a Martian plain 183 million miles from any Swiffer. They tried to turn the motors used to open the solar panels the size of the table, thinking that the vibrations would drop some dust. That didn’t work. Armchair observers have suggested that Ingenuity, the Martian helicopter, could fly overhead and blow up dust (it doesn’t matter if Ingenuity is as far away from InSight as the Mississippi is long).

But the recent trick worked. Using Insight’s robotic arm, the NASA team pulled some earth from Mars and poured it over the dust that had settled on the panels. When those grains of sediment hit the panels, they bounced off, carrying with them smaller dust particles, increased by Martian winds of 20 miles per hour.

InSight robotic arm flexing, with a dusty solar panel on the left.
Gif: NASA / JPL-Caltech

I wasn’t so much doing that thingThey were blurry stops for InSight, which arrived on Red Planet in November 2018. This January, the Martian “mole” component of the lander – at the bottom an excavator, which was supposed to sink up to 10 feet into the surface of the planet and take the reading-era temperature abandoned after having given up hope. A month later, just before the arrival of Perseverance rover on the Red Planet, the InSight team announced the decision to delay a bit of the work of the article, which the winter march meant less power for the machine.

According to NASA, the dust-dust-free approach has given the lander about 30 watt-hours of energy per Martian day. “We weren’t sure this could work, but we’re glad she did,” said Matt Golombek, a member of the InSight team. in a NASA version. The power outage doesn’t mean InSight can work at full steam ahead of the winter march, but it does buy the team a few more weeks of operation before the reduced hours. It’s also worth remembering that Insight’s solar panels weren’t destined to survive as long as Ingenuity, the Martian helicopter and Curiosity, which is now 106 months into its originally planned 23-month mission. I mean they don’t build them as well as before, but clearly, NASA still builds their Martian machines pretty well. A little creativity has kept science in force on the Red Planet.

More: Heck Yes, NASA’s Juno and InSight Missions Get Time Bonus


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