NASA will issue an update about one of its Red Planet missions this week, and you can listen to the event live.
InSight touched down in November 2018 with an ambitious agenda to assess Martian seismic activity, and the mission has delivered. Earlier this month, the mission reported its biggest-ever quake, having detected more than 1,300 since arriving in Elysium Planitia.
But InSight, a solar-powered lander, is struggling mightily against dust buildup so epic that it was spotted from orbit. The red hue was evident in a high-definition image acquired April 9 from the agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The agency said in February that power might only continue until about midyear. “The solar panels of NASA’s InSight lander are producing almost as much power as they did before the [January] storm. That power level should enable the lander to continue science operations into the summer,” the update stated.
InSight has been on a power diet for some time due to ongoing dust buildup on its twin solar panels. While engineers got some dust removed on a single panel after drizzling sand onto it in 2021, no fortuitous dust devil has come by to clean things up. (InSight doesn’t carry any equipment like motors or brushes with which to clean the solar panels.)
NASA was warning even last year that reduced power availability could end InSight’s operations this year. Mars’ natural orbital cycle also brought the Red Planet to its greatest distance from the sun in 2021, which means less solar energy reaches the surface. Dust is also picking up amid normal seasonal changes.
InSight, however, has already blown by its initial primary mission, which was expected to last a Mars year (687 Earth days). The mission was extended due to its ongoing contributions to showing interior activity in the Red Planet, which has implications for scientists’ understanding of Earth and rocky planets like it.