An imposing Martian storm could pose a danger to the InSight mission. NASA monitors the evolution of the situation, from the sky of Mars.
A continent-sized dust storm is swirling around Mars. NASA is closely monitoring the situation, because, 3,500 km away, is one of its robots sent to the red planet. This is InSight, whose mission should come to an end by the end of 2022.
“The InSight team is taking steps to keep the solar-powered lander operational for as long as possible,” NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted on October 7. The space agency recalls that the mission recently experienced a drop in energy. InSight’s solar panels have gradually become covered in dust, which poses energy concerns. The new storm adds to this already tense situation.
The storm that poses a risk to InSight is being monitored from the Mars sky, using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The ship first saw this phenomenon on September 21. For the moment, NASA reassures by saying that the storm “has had little impact on the lander“. She adds that, according to data collected by MRO, the storm has already reached its peak and entered a phase of decline. It is the third such storm on record this year.
InSight’s seismometer remains off for 2 weeks on Mars
Nevertheless, the space agency indicates that on October 3, “the storm had grown sufficiently large and raised so much dust that the thickness of the dusty haze in the Martian atmosphere had increased by almost 40% around Insight”. As a result, the mission’s solar panels were exposed to even less sunlight. The energy available to InSight then went from 425 watt-hours per Martian day to 275 watt-hours (i.e. available energy almost halved).
“At the current rate of discharge, the lander could only operate for several weeks,” says NASA. In order to save energy, it was therefore decided to turn off one of InSight’s main instruments, its seismometer, for 2 weeks – whereas previously it was on 24 hours a day On two.
The presence of this storm is a big challenge for the mission. If InSight survives this weather event, it will allow it to continue operating for some time. However, we are not immune to another storm coming next.