The InSight spacecraft will stop collecting scientific data on earthquakes and the composition of the interior of Mars when Earth calendars reach the end of July. After that time, the probe is expected to have significantly reduced data collection capability, with operations scheduled to end in December.
NASA scientists justified this undesirable ending on the grounds that the 2.2-meter-wide solar panels are covered in Martian dust, and weather conditions have reduced the amount of energy that has been captured by the sun.
Originally, the Mars mission aimed to collect scientific data over a period of two Earth years. NASA carried out this plan and even ended up extending the mission beyond the initial plan. But for that, you had to rely on something that, perhaps, any Portuguese would soon try to classify as a solution for getting around.
Faced with the fact that solar panels capture less and less sunlight, the scientists decided to enlist the services of the robotic arm initially designed to ensure the installation of sensors in the ground and underground in a new function: the dust removal from solar panels. panels.
NASA officials recall that they used the robotic arm in these remote-controlled interventions half a dozen times to ensure operability additions – but now there won’t be much to do. “One day there will be technology that will allow you to keep solar panels clean,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, predicted at a press conference.
This long-awaited day has not yet arrived, as confirmed by the data that NASA has made available on the end of this space mission: at the start of the mission, the two solar panels captured, each Martian day, 5000 watt hours . This is the energy corresponding to 40 minutes of operation of an electric oven. With the layer of Martian dust, solar panels can only capture the energy needed to power an electric furnace for 10 minutes.
NASA scientists aren’t disappointed at the end of the mission – not even with the restrictions they found on the ground, which limited some of the data capture from one of the probes. Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator of the Insight mission, was not particularly frustrated with the limitations of data collection and even said he was satisfied with InSight’s services, “given the risks of landing on Mars”.
After 3.5 years of collecting data from Elysium Planitia (which could be read as “Elysium Plain” if the Portuguese translation is ever adopted), the NASA probe is expected to collect the arm for the so-called “reform position” in the spring.
At that time, the seismometer should continue to collect data, and if you’re lucky that it hasn’t always been consistent in this mission, it may eventually repeat the data capture referring to a large earthquake land like the one that was saved. on May 4, with a magnitude of 5, which guaranteed a direct entry into the top of earthquakes never detected on another planet.
It wasn’t just the nomenclature that needed to change to remind laypeople and scientists that earthquakes recorded on the Red Planet should now be called “marsquakes” or “Mars tremors”, instead of quakes and earthquakes. earth. “It was a turning point in the study of earthquakes on Mars,” says Bruce Banerdt of the magnitude 5 quake. More than 1300 earthquakes were recorded by the probe during the time it operated on Mars.
Officials do not consider the space mission as lost and recall that it has enabled more precise measurements and descriptions of the crust, mantle and metallic core of Mars. Many other revelations could come later.
After ceasing to collect data for scientific purposes around July, the probe should operate until the end of the year with residual functions. But on Earth, more precisely in the NASA laboratories, what remains of the mission budget will have to be directed towards the extraction, processing and provision of scientific data for the scientific community.
This last part of the mission should still last about six months. As scientists wait, the possibility of applying the knowledge on other planets – even on Earth – stands out.