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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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SPIN SPIN SPIN
By JonnyDough on 11/12/2008 2:42:24 PM , Rating: 2
Why didn't they implement a spin feature? It needs a swivel mount system like tanks have, or even if just the panels could shake or something. You would think that physics 101 would have produced some sort of foresight to this problem of "dust collecting." Inertia or whatever. I never actually took physics in school, but then I don't work for freakin' NASA as a rocket scientist either. We have automatic robotic vacuums here made by iRobot for "fixing dust problems." Why hasn't NASA been able to conquer this little issue? Maybe iRobot should be designing our Mars probes instead.




RE: SPIN SPIN SPIN
By masher2 (blog) on 11/12/2008 3:10:14 PM , Rating: 3
> "Why didn't they implement a spin feature?"

The size, weight, complexity, and power usage of a motor/joint assembly powerful enough to spin off electrically charged dust would have been prohibitive.

> "Why hasn't NASA been able to conquer this little issue?"

They designed for a 90 day mission. It actually lasted nearly 5 years. I'd say they conquered the problem fairly well.

Were they planning a 10-year mission, I'm sure they would have included dust mitigation features...possibly just the simple expedient of electrostatically repelling the dust now and then.


RE: SPIN SPIN SPIN
By JonnyDough on 11/12/08, Rating: 0
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