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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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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


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