NASA Holds Off Opportunity Rover Operations Amid Massive Dust Storm On Mars

  • NASA Holds Off Opportunity Rover Operations Amid Massive Dust Storm On Mars

NASA Holds Off Opportunity Rover Operations Amid Massive Dust Storm On Mars

ExoMars Rover is a joint mission between the European Space Agency and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, with a significant contribution to MOMA from NASA.

"Science operations for Opportunity are temporarily suspended while it waits out a Martian dust storm", the Mars rovers' account announced on Twitter. It is one of the largest storms that the rover has had to encounter and there are chances that the rover could become too cold to continue with its experiments. It has covered Perseverance Valley, where Opportunity is now located, and has blotted out the sunlight. NASA reports the latest data transmission showed that the rover had a temperature of minus 20, and that it has requested an extra hand from the Deep Space Network of antennas. The swirling dust absorbs heat, raising the temperature at the surface. The valley and surrounding region have been shrouded by an intensifying dust storm over the last several days. The agency had to switch to two weeks of minimal operations and cut off contact with rover for days in order to save power.

Bu this current storm is much, much stronger. This means the rover had enough power to send a message despite the fact that the sun was blotted out by dust, preventing a full charge to its solar panels. And it's seen dust storms bigger than the one it's experiencing now.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter first detected the storm on Friday, June 1. The fearless little rover is continuing to weather the storm; it sent a transmission back to Earth Sunday morning, which is a good sign.

The two things that the team needs to balance are maintaining low power consumption for Opportunity while it is not able to recharge due to the dust storm, and the energy-intensive heaters that protect the rover's batteries from the extreme cold of Mars. On June 7, the rover's power levels dropped appreciably. The rover's initial mission timeline was just 90 days, but it's now approaching its 15th full year of operation.

"Its heaters are vitally important to keeping it alive, but also draw more power from the battery", NASA wrote in a recent update.

The rover (and its twin Spirit) launched separately to Mars in 2003 and landed in January 2004 for what was originally scheduled to be a 90-day mission. During southern summer, sunlight warms dust particles, lifting them higher into the atmosphere and creating more wind. During the time, the rover stopped phoning in to NASA to save power, defying NASA scientists who had anxious if the rover would be able to power its vital survival heaters with the low power levels caused by that dust storm.