Every day, thanks to accumulating Mars dust, NASA’s InSight is getting a little less power than before. Soon the incredible lander will not have enough to stay on. NASA had planned to slowly shut down all its instrument and let it continue to transmit the occasional “I’m still here” until the end of the extended mission in December. But now the team has decided that InSight will go out doing what it does best: detecting Marsquakes.
The lander’s seismometer has been an invaluable instrument for measuring quakes on the Red Planet (including the most powerful one yet, recorded last month) and providing important observations of what the interior of Mars is like today.
Mission control wants to squeeze out every last drop of science that it possibly can. To paraphrase Dylan Thomas, InSight will not go gently into that good night. It's going out with a bang.
The instrument was supposed to automatically turn off by the end of this month, but now the lander will be reprogrammed to let the seismometer do its job for as long as it can, maybe even until the end of August. InSIght has a fault protection system that shuts down the non-essential parts in case of low power. The seismometer will be able to bypass that in the hope of measuring many more Marsquakes. It has so far detected more than 1,300 tremors.
“InSight hasn’t finished teaching us about Mars yet,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington, said in a statement. “We’re going to get every last bit of science we can before the lander concludes operations.”
“The goal is to get scientific data all the way to the point where InSight can’t operate at all, rather than conserve energy and operate the lander with no science benefit,” said Chuck Scott, InSight’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
Accumulation of dust on its solar panel is the cause of the reduced power available. It's now less than 10 percent of what the dedicated machine used to get when it first arrived on Mars over 3.5 years ago.