Solar arrays covered in dust force NASA to terminate Mars InSight lander mission

big picture: Dual InSight solar panels, each about seven feet wide, provide the power needed for the lander. Unfortunately, enough dust has accumulated on the panels to seriously reduce efficiency. When InSight first landed, its panels could generate about 5,000 watt-hours every Martian day. Dust-covered panels can now only produce about 500 watt-hours per sol.

NASA’s InSight lander is scheduled to complete its scientific activities this summer and be completely out of service by December.

InSight, short for “Internal Research Using Seismic Surveys, Geodesy and Heat Transfer”, was launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on May 5, 2018 and landed on the Red Planet less than nine months later.

The lander was designed to detect seismic activity on a rocky planet. To date, InSight has recorded more than 1,300 quakes, the latest of which was a magnitude 5 quake that struck May 4th.

Dust on solar panels has become a serious problem over time. NASA even used the lander’s robotic arm in an innovative way to remove dust from panels, allowing it to last longer than otherwise. Upcoming seasonal changes will add additional dust to the air, further reducing sunlight. Without a more powerful dust-cleaning event like a whirlwind, the InSight will soon run out of power.

“InSight has changed our understanding of the interior of rocky planets and paved the way for future missions,” said Laurie Gleizes, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

In particular, the data allowed scientists to measure the depth and composition of the planet’s crust, mantle, and core. The knowledge gained can be applied to the Earth, the Moon, Venus and other rocky planets in our solar system, Gleizes added.

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