Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

 
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

InSight pauses science operations to conserve power

The science team for the InSight lander on Mars have been forced to suspend science operations because dust on the solar panels is reducing the available power.

InSight’s solar panels were producing just 27% of their energy capacity in February, when winter was arriving in Elysium Planitia. So NASA decided to start incrementally turning off different instruments on the lander. Soon the robot will go into “hibernation mode,” shutting down all functions that aren’t necessary for its survival.

By pausing its scientific operations, the lander should be able to save enough power to keep its systems warm through the frigid Martian nights, when temperatures can drop to negative-130 degrees Fahrenheit. “The amount of power available over the next few months will really be driven by the weather,” Chuck Scott, InSight’s project manager, said in a statement.

InSight is still in good condition – it’s even using its robotic arm – but the risk of a potentially fatal power failure is ever-present. If the lander’s batteries die, it might never recover.

As with the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, InSight engineers have depended on periodic strong wind events to periodically clean off the solar panels. Unfortunately, these events are somewhat random, and for the past few months none have occurred.

Note: the article at the link says that winter was arriving at InSight’s location in February, but this is incorrect. InSight sits at about 4 degrees north latitude. In February the end of winter was approaching in the northern hemisphere. More to the point, sitting at the equator you wouldn’t really expect InSight to experience much seasonal changes regardless.

It therefore seems that these issues had less to do with the seasons and much more to do with the accumulating dust on the panels.

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6 comments

  • Col Beausabre

    OK, we know there is a problem with dust on the panels and depend on luck to clean them off. One of these days we’re going to get unlucky and lose a very expensive piece of hardware. The obvious solution is to build a cleaning mechanism for the power supply. Let’s see, we’ve been using windshield wipers since the 1920-30’s or we could use a small air compressor with a swiveling head. I’d prefer monthly royalty checks, thank you.

  • Timothy Metcalfe

    Or a traveling bar like an Etch-a-sketch.

  • Max

    A thin long brush, pulled across the solar panels then pushed back again by a small motor that also vibrates, built into the brush. A screw mechanism similar to what is used in hard drives.
    Too bad a dust cloth wasn’t glued to the back of the digger arm. (Can you picture a feather duster? spinning on a drill mechanism?) Or a dust cloth associated with the mechanism that folds the solar panels out can be reversed for a cleaning motion.

    Compressed air is a good idea and is on the right track. Unfortunately, the weight of a compressor and tank associated with the power consumption might not be feasible. There’s also a static charge with moving air that results in the dust flying right back to the clean surface. (The same with a dust cloth or brush)
    A liquid canister of anti-static fast drying liquid, like circuitboard cleaner that leaves no residue, would be perfect and self pressurizing. If used occasionally, it would be well worth it giving years of life to the mobile unit.

    A spray tube on the digger arm, or brush, with a pre-programmed motion timed to the proper spray application could work to dispense the cleaning solution.
    (It could also be used to wash a rock sample… or as pepper spray against aggressive Martians)

  • Col Beausabre

    Max, I’m talking about the Martian atmosphere when I use the term “air”, would it exhibit the same static charge problem as Earth’s

  • Lee Stevenson

    I would say that NASA only uses solar power on stationery missions to Mars these days, where extended missions will only give limited returns. They have surely learned the lesson from Spirit and Opportunity, which could very well be still roving were they not solar powered. Thermo electric is definitely the way to go… Look at the Voyagers!

  • Max

    Col Beausabre,
    The carbon dioxide atmosphere has proven to be worse than earth, the dryness has accentuated the static charge. The sunlight is not hot, but it is unfiltered with UV rays which will break apart the CO2 resulting in free radicals similar to earth at 100,000 feet, above where ozone is created/produced from ionizing sunlight. Without a conductor, like water, to dampen the electric charge, any untreated surface that has a positive charge will attract negatively charged dust particles that float/repelled into the air because of the charge given to it by sunlight. Treated surfaces breakdown under ionizing radiation and do not last. Therefore the problem gets worse over time.
    A spring loaded billows pump may work to puff the dust but a continuous stream of air will build electrons creating a large Static field attracting dust like a powerful magnet. (like a balloon rubbed on your head and stuck to the ceiling)

    So, to fix the problem we must remove the charge. Spray cleaner designed for this purpose will neutralize the charge, remove the dust, and leave a coating to repel the dust until wind and sun deteriorate the coating making it necessary for another application. Just like the wax on your car.

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