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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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I am smarter than a NASA engineer
By PAPutzback on 11/12/2008 1:17:12 PM , Rating: 2
Perhaps when the battery level drops to a certain point it should go into a low power state and occasionaly fire up a sensor to see if there is enough light to come back on to full power. Or have a battery backup to only be used for this state.

Also. When the weather is bad why didn't they rotate the panels to be upside down so dust doesn't land on them.

It sounds like the beginning to a SciFi movie where the last image sent back were 3 alien life forms approaching the unit.

By abraxas1 on 11/12/2008 1:26:18 PM , Rating: 4
It actually does go into a low power state during the martian winter. There are critical components that need to be maintained at a certain temperature. If minimal power isn't available to keep these parts warm, then the rover will surely die. Additional batteries would have added weight.

Being able to rotate the panels also adds weight and complexity. Simple is better and the rovers have proven it.

By SpaceJumper on 11/12/2008 2:47:27 PM , Rating: 2
It is easier to fold the solar panels than rotate them upside down during the dust storm. The electrically charged dust will still be attached to the panels even if they were upside down.

RE: I am smarter than a NASA engineer
By Hare on 11/12/2008 3:43:54 PM , Rating: 3
I would somehow assume that all the rocket scientists did in fact think about these trivial measures and employed all possible means to combat dust...

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