NASA's Dust-Choked InSight Lander Is Running Out of Power on Mars

NASA's dust-covered InSight lander 7 photos
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA InSight detects its largest ever quake on MarsNASA InSight detects its largest ever quake on MarsNASA InSight detects its largest ever quake on MarsNASA InSight detects its largest ever quake on MarsNASA InSight detects its largest ever quake on MarsNASA InSight detects its largest ever quake on Mars
The lander's days are numbered. NASA's InSight spacecraft has been battling Martian dust storms for the past year, working overtime to record marsquakes. And it looks like the dying lander can't catch a break. InSight has recently faced a massive storm, which led to a drop in power generated by its solar panels.
The dust storm was detected by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on September 21st. The regional storm is around 2,175 miles (3,500 km) away from InSight, rolling across the southern hemisphere. This is the third such storm observed by MRO this year.

Initially, it had little impact on the lander. However, by Monday (October 3rd), the storm had grown large enough to raise a lot of dust in the atmosphere. That means that InSight's solar panels, which were already covered in dust, received even less sunlight.

The power levels have declined from 425Wh per Martian day to 275Wh. That isn't enough to fully charge the batteries every day. Therefore, the team behind InSight decided to turn off its seismometer for the next two weeks in order to save energy.

Scientists say that the spacecraft would be able to function for only several weeks if it doesn't get more power. But there's good news too. It looks like this storm is slowing down. The MRO observed that dust clouds are not spreading as quickly as they did a few weeks ago.

"We were at about the bottom rung of our ladder when it comes to power. Now we're on the ground floor," said InSight's project manager, Chuck Scott of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

"If we can ride this out, we can keep operating into winter – but I'd worry about the next storm that comes along," he added.

Despite having long surpassed its original mission, the lander continues to work overtime and detect marsquakes. Scientists predict that InSight will be completely engulfed by dust and die on the job sometime between October and January 2023. Hopefully, the lander will survive this storm and stay "alive" a little longer on Mars to provide crucial data about the planet's core.
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About the author: Florina Spînu
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Florina taught herself how to drive in a Daewoo Tico (a rebadged Suzuki Alto kei car) but her first "real car" was a VW Golf. When she’s not writing about cars, drones or aircraft, Florina likes to read anything related to space exploration and take pictures in the middle of nature.
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