NASA is canceling the Mars InSight mission after losing contact. • The Register

As expected, NASA’s Mars InSight lander has run out of power, leaving the space agency with no choice but to end the mission.

“Mission controllers at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California were unable to contact the lander after two consecutive attempts, leading them to conclude that the spacecraft’s solar-powered batteries were out of power — a condition the Engineers call ‘dead’ bus,'” reads NASA’s end-of-mission announcement.

The Aeronautics and Space Administration will continue to try to contact InSight just in case, but has not heard back since December 15. The chances that the lander will resume operations are slim.

And it’s getting smaller every day because the source of its problems — fine dust covering its solar panels and reducing their efficiency, draining its energy stores — won’t go away.

Not even the Martian wind helps keep the panels clean. InSight’s managers devised a cunning tactic to improve the situation: they used the lander’s robotic arm to pick up dirt and pebbles and sprinkle them onto the slabs so that their descent would have a small cleaning effect.

Martian wind is not entirely useless

The Martian winds couldn’t keep InSight clean, but just three days before InSight, the journal was decommissioned natural astronomy published an article arguing Martian winds are powerful enough to power wind turbines that would power a future human presence on the red planet.

The robotic arm was also customized for another issue that InSight was facing.

The lander’s star instrument was a “mole,” a spike designed to hammer its way five meters into Marian soil to help InSight understand the planet’s interior.

“The mole, designed for the loose, sandy soil seen on other missions, failed to gain traction in the unexpectedly lumpy soil surrounding InSight,” the agency’s farewell post reads. The mole “eventually buried its 16-inch probe just below the surface.” InSight’s arm helped bury the mole to that depth.

NASA’s farewell post includes tributes to InSight, the team that built and operated it, and the science the lander performed.

“With InSight, for the first time since the Apollo missions, when astronauts brought seismometers to the Moon, seismology was at the center of a mission beyond Earth,” said Philippe Lognonné of the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, principal investigator of InSight’s seismometer. “We’ve broken new ground, and our science team can be proud of everything we’ve learned along the way.”

“InSight more than lived up to its name. As a scientist who has spent a career studying Mars, it was exciting to see what the lander has accomplished, thanks to an entire team of people around the world who helped make this mission a success said Laurie Leshin, Director of JPL. “Yes, it’s sad to say goodbye, but the legacy of InSight will live on, informing and inspiring.”

space is hard. But also inspiring. And InSight has proven both once again. ® NASA is canceling the Mars InSight mission after losing contact. • The Register

Rick Schindler

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