Opportunity’s uncertain future


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Link here. This article from JPL provides a detailed status report on the rover, as well as what will happen if they should regain communications.

After the first time engineers hear from Opportunity, there could be a lag of several weeks before a second time. It’s like a patient coming out of a coma: It takes time to fully recover. It may take several communication sessions before engineers have enough information to take action.

The first thing to do is learn more about the state of the rover. Opportunity’s team will ask for a history of the rover’s battery and solar cells and take its temperature. If the clock lost track of time, it will be reset. The rover would take pictures of itself to see whether dust might be caked on sensitive parts, and test actuators to see if dust slipped inside, affecting its joints.

Once they’ve gathered all this data, the team would take a poll about whether they’re ready to attempt a full recovery.

Even if engineers hear back from Opportunity, there’s a real possibility the rover won’t be the same. The rover’s batteries could have discharged so much power — and stayed inactive so long — that their capacity is reduced. If those batteries can’t hold as much charge, it could affect the rover’s continued operations. It could also mean that energy-draining behavior, like running its heaters during winter, could cause the batteries to brown out.

They remain hopeful, but this article is clearly meant to prepare the public for the possibility that Opportunity’s long journey on Mars might have finally ended.

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5 comments

  • Phil Berardelli

    Opportunity — and to a lesser extent the Spirit rover, which became inactive in 2010 — became the “Gilligan’s Island” of robotic space missions. Landing in 2004 for 90-day missions, both craft stunned their designers by persisting far beyond their designed lifetimes. I wrote about the rovers a year after their landings and suggested how much good fortune seemed to stay with them (https://www.upi.com/Lady-Luck-watches-over-Mars-rovers/68521109045032/). Even if Opportunity has finally succumbed to the harsh and relentless Martian environment, I’d guess its achievements will be difficult to surpass, particularly given its reliance on solar cells and batteries instead of a nuclear generator.

  • Kyle

    It had a great run, I think they got their moneys worth out of it, what was the original mission duration? Like 2 months? A fantastic return of our investment

  • George Noory and Coast-to-Coast AM wanted an update on Opportunity last Tuesday. Why the heck did they get that ignorant self-important loony Mike Bara on instead of you, the nominal “science adviser”?

  • expat: You need to ask them that question.

  • wodun

    Too bad we didn’t have 20 of them controlled by people in an orbit around Mars within the cognitive horizon.

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