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Martian dust storm covers Spirit's solar panels in dust

This has proven to be a bad week for NASA rovers patrolling Mars. NASA has several rovers on the surface of Mars performing various missions including looking for water and existence of ice on the red planet.

Yesterday, NASA announced that it had lost communications with the Phoenix lander and had no expectations of the lander surviving the inhospitable Martian winter. Despite the fact that the rover has been declared dead by NASA, the Phoenix mission was a success and lasted longer than originally planned by NASA.

Today, NASA has announced that the Spirit rover is also in jeopardy of failing. Lack of sunlight hitting the solar panels of Spirit is causing serious concern at NASA. According to scientists on the mission, Spirit only produced 89 watt-hours of energy last weekend, which is half the amount of power the rover needs for full performance.

The reason for the drop in power production is a massive dust storm that deposited Martian dust on the solar panels and prevented sunlight form reaching them. Spirit's mission began in 2003 when it was sent to the red planet to search for clues on past water on the surface of the planet.

To help conserve power and prevent Spirit from running its batteries dry, NASA instructed the rover to turn off several heaters designed to keep scientific instruments warm. The rover was also ordered to stop communicating with Earth until Thursday.

NASA says that if it doesn't hear form Spirit on Thursday it will be extremely concerned. Scientists hope Spirit will make it, the dust storms over it position have abated. It's not known if the storm caused damage to any of the rover's instruments at this time or if the rover will be able to move again due to the dust on the panels.



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all this money spent
By Screwballl on 11/12/2008 1:14:25 PM , Rating: -1
All this money spent and they couldn't conceive of a way to put up some sort of shell or dome protector for a few months until the dust storm fades and use reserve battery power to open it up and recharge down the road...?

All this would not be a problem if they weren't so damn stubborn against using nuclear power.




RE: all this money spent
By Ratwar on 11/12/2008 1:18:13 PM , Rating: 2
You have a nuclear reactor light enough to fit in a 408 lb rover?


RE: all this money spent
By amanojaku on 11/12/2008 1:26:43 PM , Rating: 2
RE: all this money spent
By Ratwar on 11/12/2008 1:30:41 PM , Rating: 5
Good Point, let me rephrase that:

Do you have a DeLorean with a Flux Capacitor?


RE: all this money spent
By amanojaku on 11/12/2008 1:33:01 PM , Rating: 1
Yes. I also have an intelligent supermodel harem, self-replicating money, and a computer with infinite everything.


RE: all this money spent
By masher2 (blog) on 11/12/2008 1:35:11 PM , Rating: 2
We've had nuclear RTGs capable of powering devices like this for decades. NASA shies away from using them as much as possible, though, due to public outcry anything "radioactive" is included in a mission.


RE: all this money spent
By amanojaku on 11/12/2008 1:41:30 PM , Rating: 1
What, are we poisoning space now? That's the dumbest thing I've head in five minutes. Space is full of radiation! John Q. Public can be really amazing at times. No wonder Paris Hilton has another TV show.


RE: all this money spent
By abraxas1 on 11/12/2008 1:48:10 PM , Rating: 2
The fear is more like, what happens if it blows up during launch in our atmosphere.


RE: all this money spent
By masher2 (blog) on 11/12/2008 1:50:16 PM , Rating: 4
The nuclear RTG aboard Apollo 13 survived catastrophic reentry into the atmosphere and a crash landing without any release of radiation...and that was with 1970-era materials and technology.


RE: all this money spent
By Myg on 11/12/2008 2:15:07 PM , Rating: 2
Lady luck favours those who don't try too hard with chance.


RE: all this money spent
By PedroDaGr8 on 11/12/2008 2:21:11 PM , Rating: 3
Lady luck also favors those who are prepared. If we test it under a wide range of drastic scenarios, then we can start to really take luck out of the equation and instead it only a small chance something bad happens.


RE: all this money spent
By masher2 (blog) on 11/12/2008 2:23:37 PM , Rating: 4
Lady Luck favors those who make reasonable assessments of risks, rather than those too afraid of their own shadow to ever accomplish anything.

Even should a complete failure occur, causing an RTG to release its radiologic package, the end result would simply be a negligible increase in background radiation levels.

We live in a constant bath of radiation anyway. If people realized this, there would be a lot less irrational fear over all things nuclear.


RE: all this money spent
By nolisi on 11/12/2008 3:20:05 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
reasonable assessments of risks,


Speaking of reasonable assessments- as a supporter of nuclear technology, I find it hard to believe that the minority of of the public (I've seen recent polls showing 47% in favor of nuclear power, 41% against) was able to sway policy regarding Nasa's use of nuclear technology on Mars. I understand

When you consider the fact that a low recent approval ratings of current congress/executive branch as well as several years of protest by a minority in the US have failed to sway foreign policies and armed conflicts, I would say that the idea that the public has shifted NASA's use of nuclear power is not a "reasonable assessment."


RE: all this money spent
By nolisi on 11/12/2008 3:21:51 PM , Rating: 2
Apologies for the choppy statement- I will endeavor to edit my responses more thoroughly.


RE: all this money spent
By masher2 (blog) on 11/12/2008 4:46:45 PM , Rating: 2
A. NASA has already gone on record several times on why they've been reluctant to include nuclear power on missions.
B. The public's opinion of nuclear power has increased dramatically in the past few years.
C. The "squeaky wheel gets the grease" syndrome. A vocal minority can and does influence policy decisions in this country, unfortunately.


RE: all this money spent
By FITCamaro on 11/12/2008 4:26:22 PM , Rating: 2
Too bad she doesn't kill idiots. Like drunk drivers.


RE: all this money spent
By JonnyDough on 11/12/2008 2:44:36 PM , Rating: 2
That might also be why we're not using it now. It's probably cheaper to use an alternative than to send that up with all the shielding and safety features needed.


RE: all this money spent
By Ringold on 11/12/2008 4:51:33 PM , Rating: 2
I think the only shielding necessary was a decent case. On the other hand, the craft gets uninterrupted and decent quantities of power.

NASA did try to use RTG's, but when thousands of protestors started showing up for launches, combined with Carter-era rabid anti-nuclear activism, they just gave up. Masher didn't mention it, but to my understanding even in cases where NASA still does try to use RTG's they have a hell of a time for a reason I don't know trying to get the amount of plutonium they need from the government.


RE: all this money spent
By TSS on 11/12/2008 3:51:21 PM , Rating: 2
instead of scaling a reactor down how about scaling a nuclear battery up.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7843868/.


RE: all this money spent
By Clauzii on 11/13/2008 8:26:15 AM , Rating: 2
That looks promising indeed! Might be very good for pacemakers for which it seems predestined.


RE: all this money spent
By rudolphna on 11/12/2008 8:17:28 PM , Rating: 2
Yes. We have Radio isotope thermoelectric generators. What were used on Voyagers 1, 2, Pioneer 10, and 11 among others. We are still receiving data from Voyagers and will be till about 2020


RE: all this money spent
By 91TTZ on 11/13/2008 2:57:22 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, they make small RTG's.


RE: all this money spent
By abraxas1 on 11/12/2008 1:22:34 PM , Rating: 2
Using a "Dome" would have added cost and weight to the rover. It would have also added another complexity that could fail.

Basically the same case for adding nuclear power.


RE: all this money spent
By fleshconsumed on 11/12/2008 1:26:12 PM , Rating: 3
Dome?

Solar panel wipers would have been far more effective.


RE: all this money spent
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 11/12/2008 2:45:42 PM , Rating: 2
I was thinking they could program in a dog like feature.... imagine a wet dog shaking off the water. Now just program the rover to do the same thing.... Problem solved. :P


RE: all this money spent
By bhieb on 11/12/2008 1:37:25 PM , Rating: 3
Echoing the below post. I think they did quite well since all that money was spent on a 90-day mission that is pushing 5 years. IMHO these 2 rovers are perhaps the best NASA project ever when it comes to bang for your buck.

So why did some of the smartest engineers in the country not think the "dome", but you magically did? Well probably because it would have been a total waste on a 90-day project.


RE: all this money spent
By tmouse on 11/12/2008 2:04:28 PM , Rating: 2
Actually that’s not necessarily true. Sometimes one is so close to a problem you become myopic, and then someone says something totally naive, at first you say “you don't know what you’re talking about “ then you think about it and think.....Crap why didn't we see that.


RE: all this money spent
By bhieb on 11/12/2008 3:56:39 PM , Rating: 2
No disagreement there, but acting like anything regarding these rovers was a "waste of money" is pretty far fetched. A 90 day life expectancy that lasts 5 years is nothing short of extraordinary, and there is just no need to second guess the engineering now by all intents and purposes it was superb.


RE: all this money spent
By rudolphna on 11/12/2008 9:17:12 PM , Rating: 2
No, again that is Voyager. Launched in 77, we have gotten so much valuable information from them, and they will keep going till 2020


RE: all this money spent
By randomly on 11/12/2008 2:01:16 PM , Rating: 2
They do use nuclear power. Viking I and II were both powered by RTGs (Radioisotope Thermal Generators). Much of the Apollo mission lunar equipment was powered by RTGs, Voyager, Pioneer, Galileo, Cassini, etc.

I believe the decision to use Solar panels on Spirit and Opportunity was driven by cost and weight limitations. They had to stay with the mass limits imposed by the inflatable landing bag system.

The MSL rover uses an RTG instead of solar power, but they had to come up with a whole new landing system ( The sky crane) since it's 5 times heavy than Spirit or Opportunity and beyond the limits of the landing bag system.


RE: all this money spent
By Andy35W on 11/13/2008 2:50:05 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, good points.

Also, to be stated again, for a 90 day mission you simply don't need to worry about dust on panels, it's only because they have managed to make it work for 5 years that it has become a problem.

We need to send the people at my local traffic lights up there to give them a clean for a cigarette or two.

Regards

Andy


RE: all this money spent
By marvdmartian on 11/13/2008 11:54:02 AM , Rating: 1
This is the real reason why the rovers fail:

http://www.autothing.com/images/Fun%20Things/Artic...

Marvin's taking it in for the first ever, "Pimp my Rover" show!! ;)


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