InSight teams push for more science in recent months on lander, Curiosity continues tour of Gale Crater

In May 2022, NASA’s InSight Mars crew announced that the lander’s power levels were declining and expected the lander to become inoperable by December 2022. However, InSight teams wanted to make the lander possible. most in their last months and have chosen to work with the seismometer of the lander for longer than previously planned.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Curiosity rover, approaching its 10th anniversary of landing on Mars, continues to orbit Gale Crater and explore interesting rock and surface formations – giving scientists clues as to what Mars’ ancient past might have looked like.

InSight teams are pushing for more science

On May 17, 2022, members of NASA’s InSight Mars launch team announced that the mission, which began with a launch from the Vandenburg Space Force base in May 2018, would end at the end of 2022, as the power of the landing gear decreases.

The original plan for InSight’s last months was the slow withdrawal of specific tools and scientific operations as power levels dropped lower and lower every day. The landing gear arm was moved to its “retirement position” at the end of May, with the instruments slowly shutting down over the weeks.

However, at the end of June, the teams revised their plans for the last months of InSight to maximize the science they can learn from the lander. The teams originally planned to turn off the seismometer, the last working scientific instrument, in late June to save energy. Instead, the team has already chosen to keep the seismometer on until late August or early September.

“The goal is to get scientific data to the point where InSight can’t work at all, instead of saving energy and operating the lander without scientific benefit,” said Chuck Scott, InSight’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (JPL). ).

While maintaining the seismometer will undoubtedly lead to great scientific results, it will also deplete the power of the InSight faster, which probably means that the lander will become inoperable around the time the seismometer turns off in August or September.

“InSight has not yet completed our training for Mars. We will get all the science we can before the lander completes operations, “said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

The seismometer is the latest instrument to work on InSight.

But how exactly do the teams plan to keep the seismometer working in the last months of the lander?

The teams plan to turn off InSight’s bug protection system, which will shut down InSight’s and almost all other spacecraft systems and put the ship in “safe mode” when certain events threaten its overall health. Such events include extremely high or low temperatures and extremely low power of the spacecraft. Although this will allow InSight to keep its seismometer running longer, it leaves the lander susceptible to sudden and unexpected events that teams will not have time to act on.

Made by InSight in February 2019, this image shows that the sensitive seismometer of the lander is located. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

InSight began its mission in May 2018 and landed in the Elysium Planitia region of Mars on November 26, 2018, for what was planned as a two-year mission. Since its landing, InSight has recorded an unprecedented 1300+ earthquakes and collected vast amounts of data on the complex interior of Mars. InSight also recorded local Martian weather data during its mission and helped study remnants of Mars’ ancient magnetic field – doing so in a nearly four-year mission twice as long as originally expected.

InSight’s contribution to planetary science is invaluable, and when it sends its latest broadcast, its accumulated data will continue to give researchers clues about the past, present, and future of Mars for decades to come.

Curiosity continues to orbit Gale Crater

Another NASA Mars mission, which has also long outlived its planned mission, is Curiosity, NASA’s Mars rover from the Science Laboratory, which landed in Gale Crater almost ten years ago on August 6, 2012. After landing in Gale Crater, Curiosity is working hard to photograph, investigate, and drill into interesting surface formations of scientific significance.

In 2014, Curiosity began what will probably be his boldest journey – climbing Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons). Mount Sharp is a large mountain 5.5 km high, located in the center of Gale Crater; it contains discovered sediments and rock formations that could keep valuable secrets about the past of Mars.

(Click here to read about Curiosity’s many scientific contributions.)

In 2022, Curiosity continued to climb and explore Mount Sharpe, traveling through a transition zone between a clay-rich area and a sulfate-rich area. Initially, scientists planned to study only the regions rich in clay and sulfates, but found that the transition zone between the two areas offers much evidence of the past of Mars and probably a significant change in the climate of Mars, which occurred billions of years ago. before.

This image shows the sulfate-rich area of ​​the transition zone through which Curiosity is currently traveling. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS)

Billions of years ago, when Mars once had running water on its surface, lakes and streams at the base of Mount Sharpe in Gale Crater formed clay minerals and deposited sediment. After climbing Mount Sharpe and driving in the transition zone, Curiosity found that the lakes and streams dried up in streams and large sand dunes formed over the sediments deposited by the water.

“We no longer see the lake sediments we’ve seen for years down Mount Sharp,” said Curiosity project scientist Ashvin Vasavada of JPL. “Instead, we see a lot of evidence of a drier climate, such as dry dunes, around which streams sometimes flow. That’s a big change from the lakes that existed maybe millions of years before. “

What’s more, Curiosity is finding more and more sulfates as the rover continues to climb through the transition zone and teams plan to drill one last rock in the area to provide a detailed look at the rock’s mineral composition.

However, the interesting mineral compositions are not the only unique geological characteristics in the transition zone. The hills in the transition zone probably formed in a dry environment with large sand dunes swept away by the wind. Over time, these hills solidified into rock, locking sediments in them that were probably deposited by small lakes or streams that revolved around the dunes.

Today, these sediments are erosion-resistant piles of scaly layers, and Curiosity often depicts these areas for analysis by scientists.

This image, taken by Curiosity, shows erosion-resistant piles of sediment once deposited by small lakes or streams in Gale Crater. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS)

Overall, Curiosity is approaching its 10th anniversary of surface operations on Mars – an amazing achievement for the rover itself, its team back to Earth and the engineers who built it.

However, while the rover is still strong, teams are beginning to notice significant wear on the rover’s aluminum wheels, with teams noting large amounts of damage to one of Curiosity’s 19 left center wheel weights.

The loaders are the zigzag wheel protectors of Curiosity, and five of the 19 loaders are significantly damaged on the left middle wheel. As a result, teams will now reduce the time between routine inspections that Curiosity performs on its wheels.

Damaged wheels, however, do not stop Curiosity, as he continues to climb and explore Mount Sharp every day.

(Main image: the last selfie of InSight. Elysium Planitia, Mars. Taken on April 24, 2022. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

Leave a Comment