NASA may lose two spacecraft to the Martian winter

by Thomas Kitchen

Staff Writer

The following story was written by a student on the staff of The Jaguar Times as part of Hilliard Bradley High School’s Journalism Production course.

 NASA’s InSight lander and Ingenuity helicopter making preparations for the Martian winter. Credit: NASA.
NASA’s InSight lander and Ingenuity helicopter making preparations for the Martian winter. Credit: NASA.

NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter, which landed on the surface of Mars went into safe mode on May 3th 2022 due to lack of power caused by dust accumulating on its solar panel. This same issue is an issue NASA’s InSight lander is currently facing on Mars. This issue caused the end of the Opportunity rover’s mission back in 2019. Ingenuity reconnected with its partner the Perseverance rover on May 5th. The martian winter begins in two months meaning less sunlight and colder temperatures. The big problem being less sunlight for Ingenuity and InSight.

NASA’s InSight lander landed on mars in 2018, and since then it has been revealing the mysterious interior of Mars. InSight also takes measurements of Martian weather and magnetic field. The official mission of InSight ended in 2020 and NASA continued its mission into 2022. With the Martian winter approaching in the next few months, InSight may be dead by the end of the year. InSight has been having an issue with dust accumulation on its solar panels. The lander went into safe mode on May 7, when its energy levels dropped, causing it to cease everything but essential functions.

The team behind InSight anticipates this could happen more frequently in the future as more dust is lobbed into the Martian atmosphere during the winter. "We've been hoping for a dust cleaning like we saw happen several times to the Spirit and Opportunity rovers," said Bruce Banerdt, InSight's principal investigator at JPL. "That's still possible, but energy is low enough that our focus is making the most of the science we can still collect." InSight’s team plans to put its robotic arm into a retirement position soon, and by the end of summer turn off its seismometer. Planning to conclude the mission in December

Although InSight may not be the only spacecraft lost to the upcoming Martian winter. NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter also is having an issue with dust accumulation on its solar panel. In early May of 2022 Ingenuity went into safe mode for the first time and also failed to communicate with the nearby Perseverance rover.

What was originally supposed to be a technology demonstration, Ingenuity now performs scouting missions for the Perseverance rover. When Ingenuity failed to communicate with Perseverance, the rover stopped all activity for 24 hours to listen for the call of Ingenuity. With the Martian winter approaching NASA has been preparing for the increase of dust in the air and lower temperatures. “Our top priority is to maintain communications with Ingenuity in the next few sols, but even then, we know that there will be significant challenges ahead,” Ingenuity Team Lead Teddy Tzanetos of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California said in a NASA announcement. NASA can make preparations for the Martian winter but won't be 100% positive on their preparations until the Martian winter is upon Ingenuity.

Though the Hope for InSight is being lost, Ingenuity may not meet the same fate. Only time will tell though.