NASA’s Insight probe on Mars is supposed to continue collecting scientific data for as long as possible, even if that means running out of power as early as the fall. This was decided by the research team responsible for operating the probe and thus changed the final course of the mission once again.
It had actually been assumed that the lander would automatically switch off the important seismometer as the last instrument at the end. Instead, the failover system has now been deactivated and the seismometer is to search for marsquakes for as long as possible. If the current is no longer sufficient for this, the probe will switch off completely.
Less protection for the lander
Lori Glaze from NASA explains the change in strategy: “Insight isn’t done teaching us about Mars yet.” With the exception of the seismometer, all instruments are already switched off. Like other NASA probes, this probe also has a fail-safe mode that automatically puts it into a safe mode whenever an unexpected or dangerous situation arises. A low battery level or too low temperatures could also trigger this.
However, so that the seismometer can work as long as possible, this failure protection will now be deactivated. The lander is then also unprotected, and those responsible on Earth will not be able to react quickly enough to unexpected events. If all goes according to plan, Insight will run out of power towards the end of August or beginning of September.
Insight has been on Mars since the end of November 2018. With a sensitive seismometer, the probe measures waves that are caused by earthquakes below the surface. From their echoes in particular, conclusions can be drawn about the structures on which they were reflected. Unlike on Earth, marsquakes are not triggered by plate tectonics processes, which do not exist on the red planet. Instead, the tremors in the crust of the “one-plate planet” are caused by stresses on the rock, triggered by the slow shrinking of the cooling planet.
With more and more dust covering the lander’s solar panels, it will soon run out of power. The last plan was to collect scientific data for the last time in the summer and then largely switch off the lander. Actually, Insight should remain active until December, in the hope that a dust storm will clean the solar panels after all.
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