The Clock Is Ticking for NASA’s InSight as Dust-Covered Spacecraft Nears Death on Mars

Illustration of NASA InSight 6 photos
Photo: NASA
NASA InSight launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in 2018Engineers at JPL practice with a full-size replica of InSightNASA InSight lander takes selfie 10 days after touchdown on MarsDust-covered lander takes selfie on April 24, 2022Illustration of NASA's InSight lander
NASA’s Mars InSight lander is nearing its death. The spacecraft, which is choking on dust, has little power left to function on the Red Planet. Scientists predict that the mission will end in the next few weeks. Until then, they will continue to collect valuable data about Mars’ interior.
Since it landed on Mars in 2018, InSight has provided details about the planet’s layers and core, and it examined the remnants of the magnetic field that the Red Planet once had. The spacecraft has felt the ground shake numerous times since touchdown. It recorded more than 1,300 marsquakes, the greatest of which had a magnitude of 5. It even detected quakes that resulted from meteoroid strikes.

But the mission will soon end because the lander is getting less and less power. The spacecraft’s solar panels are covered in dust, and sadly, things don’t seem to get any better. This summer, InSight’s power levels were so low that the team behind the lander had to shut down its instruments to keep the seismometer operational.

Unfortunately, the spacecraft had to deal with a massive dust storm, which just increased the amount of dust accumulated on the solar panels. In order to save power, the team had to switch off the seismometer as well. The storm has passed, and the seismometer is once again operational. But not for long, as scientists expect the lander to be active for only a few more weeks.

According to network manager Roy Gladden of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the mission will end once InSight fails to communicate with two spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet. The lander could be saved if a strong gust of wind blows some of the dust on its panels. But the space agency suggests that this is unlikely to happen.

So InSight will die on the job. The lander will continue to provide crucial information about the planet’s interior until the day it completely loses power.

“We’ll keep making science measurements as long as we can,” said Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s JPL. “We’re at Mars’ mercy. Weather on Mars is not rain and snow; weather on Mars is dust and wind,” he added.
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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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