November 18, 2018

NASA eager to hear from Mars rover as dust storm clears

30 October 2018, 08:31 | Edward Lowe

NASA is anxious to hear from its dust-silenced Mars rover, Opportunity, as the planet's red skies clear.

To prepare, the Opportunity mission team has developed a two-step plan to provide the highest probability of successfully communicating with the rover and bringing it back online.

"The sun is breaking by the haze over Perseverance Valley, and rapidly there might be ample daylight hours contemporary that Different needs to be capable of recharge its batteries", John Callas, Different project supervisor at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, stated in a assertion. If the team doesn't hear back from Opportunity during that period of time, the space agency will assume that something has impacted the rover in a way that prevents its recovery. At the time contact was lost with Opportunity in early June, tau has risen to 10.8, a record high value that indicated that the sun was nearly completely obscured by the dust storm. They haven't heard from him since June 10th and they're anxious this last storm may have killed off the bot that could. The good news is no dust storms are brewing within 1,900 miles of Opportunity according to MRO Project Scientist Rich Zurek. The latest MARCI data shows no active dust storms to within 3000km of Opportunity's location.

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"If we do not hear back after 45 days, the team will be forced to conclude that the Sun-blocking dust and the Martian cold have conspired to cause some type of fault from which the rover will more than likely not recover", Callas noted. However, it's also possible that other conditions during the dust storm damaged critical components of Opportunity, and the rover has, in fact, reached its final resting place.

The team will continue to passively listen to the rover for several months after the soft deadline passes though, because there's a chance that the dust that has settled on Opportunity's solar panels will be whisked off by a Martian cleaning crew known as a "dust devil". Toward the right side of this scene is a broad notch in the crest of the western rim of crater. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

All of our indications from orbit are now showing that this monster of a dust storm is definitely in a state of decline. Nonetheless, each day during the passive phase, JPL's Radio Science group will scour the signal records taken by a very sensitive broadband receiver of radio frequencies emanating from Mars, looking for a sign that the rover is trying to reach out.

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Now, however, the dust is clearing, and NASA is listening for the little rover to phone home once it powers up. Its front steering and flash memory are shot.

Those now working on the Opportunity mission are also disappointed and surprised by the 45-day limit to listening efforts, according to project sources not authorized to speak on the record. We'll all be waiting to see what happens next. Now, Opportunity engineers and scientists of Opportunity are planning, and hoping, that this latest dilemma is just another bump in their Martian road.

"This is the worst storm Opportunity has ever seen, and we're doing what we can, crossing our fingers, and hoping for the best", said Steve Squyres, a planetary scientist at Cornell University and leader of the rover mission, in a recent Planetary Society blog. "We're pulling for our tenacious rover to drag her feet from the fireplace one additional time". When can we expect to hear from it again?

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In its statement, NASA did not publish an updated value of tau.

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