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InSight shut down temporarily because of lack of power

InSight's power levels over recent time

Because a dust storm has caused a further decline in the power being generated by InSight’s solar panels, the science team has decided to put the lander into safe mode for the next two weeks in the hope that the air will then clear, allowing its power levels to rise.

The graph to the right shows that drop. From the press release:

By Monday, Oct. 3, the storm had grown large enough and was lofting so much dust that the thickness of the dusty haze in the Martian atmosphere had increased by nearly 40% around InSight. With less sunlight reaching the lander’s panels, its energy fell from 425 watt-hours per Martian day, or sol, to just 275 watt-hours per sol.

InSight’s seismometer has been operating for about 24 hours every other Martian day. But the drop in solar power does not leave enough energy to completely charge the batteries every sol. At the current rate of discharge, the lander would be able to operate only for several weeks. So to conserve energy, the mission will turn off InSight’s seismometer for the next two weeks.

The real problem however is the dust covering the solar panels. If that dust gets thicker due to this storm, the lander will not recover when they power it up in two weeks. It will still generate electricity at this low number, making future operations likely impossible.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Jeff Wright

    It lasted just long enough to record an impact…

  • The Last Optimist

    Why have none of the Martian landers been designed with some kind of brush of air jet to clear off the solar panels? Martian dust accumulation has been a known issue for some time.

  • Gary


    I still wonder if firing up the “mole”, if even for a few minutes, might create enough vibration to shake some of that dust loose. I’m sure, since I’m an ignorant Earther, there is a reason that wouldn’t work.

  • pzatchok

    Well we know props work so why not just install a fan?

  • GaryMike

    NASCAR race cars use windshield tear-offs to quickly manage windshield visibility issues.

    Really smart people haven’t figured out how to do that for martian lander solar panels.

    The more often landers fail, the more often new landers continue to employ.

  • Jason

    I’d been thinking about this, is Insight the rover with the drone? Why not do a “dust off” maneuver with the drone? Something like a close approach hover followed by a brief spike to full power to the props. It’d be better if they could temporarily tether the drone down and do a hard burst of down draft.

  • Col Beausabre

    “Why not do a “dust off” maneuver with the drone?” Somebody needs to be medevaced? “Dustoff” is the universally used US Army callsign, dating back to the Vietnam War, for an Aero Ambulance unit. For example. “Reliable Dustoff” was the callsign for the 9th Infantry Division’s (“The Old Reliables”) unit. We now return you to the surface of Mars.

  • Jason: Insight is not a rover. It is a lander whose only working instrument is a seismometer. The rover with the helicopter Ingenuity is Perseverance, more than a thousand miles away.

    Search my website for all three of these spacecraft and you will quickly learn a lot about all three, what they are doing, where they are. Search for Curiosity (the U.S.’s second working rover) and you get to see some spectacular Martian scenery.

  • Edward

    You wrote: “NASCAR race cars use windshield tear-offs to quickly manage windshield visibility issues. Really smart people haven’t figured out how to do that for martian lander solar panels.

    If they used this technology on Mars, what criticism would you have when they ran out of tear-offs?

    Our space probes come with expected lifetimes for a reason. There is a limited budget, and eventually even NASA has to abandon a working probe in order to afford a new probe that will provide new data. It may seem like a waste to limit the lifetime of an expensive prove, but the Deep Space Network resources are limited, the budgets for data processing and storage are limited, and the resources for creating the scientific papers are limited. This is counterintuitive, considering that the U.S. government pays tens of millions of people to not work and be unproductive rather than pay them to process scientific data and be productive, but that is the reality that we currently have to do science with.

    As with New Horizons, any extension of a probe’s mission must pass a review and be approved. This process even happened with InSight, when they decided to extend its mission into August and September. Adding mass to the probe in order to extend its life beyond the plan would only result in the removal of a scientific instrument during the planning stage of the mission. This is another reality that we currently have to do science with.

    Maybe, soon, with the much better performance of the Starship launchers, we might be able to put more mass and more bells and whistles on our probes, and maybe the savings in launch costs will be reflected in longer expected missions and a corresponding need and weight budget to clean off solar cells.

    We can only hope that it goes that way rather than using the savings to pay even more people to not work.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Just think when we have operational Starships and these landers can be heavier and include tear offs, air blast brush AND fans and not have to sacrifice science experiments.

    Of course, when we get humans on Mars, we can include astronauts with small whisk brooms to dust off panels.

  • GaryMike

    Edward, all good points. Thank you.

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