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InSight’s power status holding steady on Mars

InSight's status as of August 9, 2022

Yesterday the InSight science team posted the lander’s ongoing power status, as it has been doing about every week since in June the team announced that they expected power to run out sometime in August, ending the mission.

I have created the graph to the right, showing the data from all those updates, to try to glean the overall trends. The red line indicates the tau level of dust in the atmosphere, essentially telling us how much that dust is blocking light from the Sun. Normally outside of dust season this number should range from 0.6 to 0.7. Since May 17 that dust level has been steadily declining, which thus increases the amount of sunlight reaching the panels.

The blue line marks the amount of power the lander’s panels have been able to produce. The lack of change in this line reveals both good and bad news. The good news is that the power level is holding steady, at a level that allows InSight’s one operating instrument, its seismometer, to continue to function. Should this power level continue to remain stable, that seismometer should be able to operate past August, thus extending the instrument’s life longer than expected.

The bad news is that the power levels are not going up as the dust level is dropping. This suggests that the dust layer on the panels that is preventing them from generating power is actually getting thicker. InSight has still not experienced any puff of Mars’ weak wind capable of blowing dust off those panels. Instead, as the dust settles out of the atmosphere with the end of dust season, some is settling on the panels themselves.

As new updates arrive I will update this graph. Stay tuned. InSight is not yet dead, though the vultures are unfortunately circling overhead.

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6 comments

  • John

    One critical piece of information is missing: how much power does InSight need?

  • John: According to the previous press release (which I link to), it began with 5000 watts generated per day, and has been down to around 400-500 per day in recent months.

    I have not located the minimum watt hours required, but if the number stays above 400 that appears to be enough to keep the seismometer operating.

  • Todd Brown

    Robert, How is it that these engineers know before hand that dust in the atmosphere may be an issue for the solar panels? They didnt think of some fan or wiper blade like found on all modern cars to allow for proper panel solar extraction.
    Smh.
    Todd

  • Todd Brown: This issue has been argued over many times. Putting a “wiper blade” on the panels is not as simple as you might think, especially because, based on the tiny nature of the dust particles, it likely would not work, or would have required serious and expensive engineering to make work.

    More important, weight considerations made almost any solution difficult. The engineers instead decided, based on their budget and weight limits, to take the same risk that worked on the little rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Both had been launched with a planned 90 day mission, and both lasted years beyond that. The panels periodically got covered with dust, but unexpectedly, dust devils would also periodically pass over and blow them clean. This happened many times, allowing both rovers to survive for years, with Opportunity lasting more than a decade.

    So far, however, for InSight this gamble has failed.

    Having said this, overall InSight was not a well managed project. Do a search on BtB for “InSight”, go back to the beginning, and read its history. Lots of screw-ups along the way.

  • ROBERT NABORNEY

    “I don’t believe in miracles, I depend upon them.”

  • Star Bird

    Enough for Eludium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator?

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