NASA's Insight Mars Lander Is 'in Crisis', And Has Entered Emergency Hibernation

Science

ScienceAlert 14 April, 2021 - 07:32pm 32 views

InSight, which landed in a Martian plain called Elysium Planitia in 2018, has detected more than 500 Mars quakes, felt more than 10,000 dust devils pass by, and started to measure the planet's core.

But over the past few months, InSight has been fighting for its life as the red planet's unpredictable weather threatens to snuff out the robot.

Unlike other sites where NASA has sent rovers and landers – including the landing spot of the new Perseverance rover and its Mars helicopter – powerful gusts of wind have not been sweeping Elysium Planitia.

These winds, called "cleaning events," are needed to blow the red Martian dust off the solar panels of NASA's robots. Without their help, a thick layer of dust has accumulated on InSight, and it's struggling to absorb sunlight.

InSight's solar panels were producing just 27 percent of their energy capacity in February, when winter was arriving in Elysium Planitia.

So NASA decided to put the lander in "hibernation mode," switching off different instruments each day. Soon the robot will shut down all functions that aren't necessary for its survival.

By pausing its scientific operations, the lander should be able to save enough power to keep its systems warm through the frigid Martian nights, when temperatures can drop to negative-130 degrees Fahrenheit.

"The amount of power available over the next few months will really be driven by the weather," Chuck Scott, InSight's project manager, said in a statement.

Now almost halfway through its expected hibernation period, InSight is still in good condition, but the risk of a potentially fatal power failure is ever-present. If the lander's batteries die, it might never recover.

"We would be hopeful that we'd be able to bring it back back to life, especially if it's not asleep or dead for a long period of time," Bruce Banerdt, InSight's principal investigator, told Insider. "But that would be a dicey situation."

The agency expects to restart InSight's full operations after Mars swings back toward the sun in July. If it can survive this Martian winter, the lander could keep listening for quakes and tracking weather into 2022.

InSight's power shortage contributed to NASA's decision to abandon the lander's "mole" in January. That burrowing probe was supposed to measure the temperature deep in the Martian crust – crucial data in the study of the planet's history and internal structure.

Now scientists are missing out on even more data as the lander shuts down its instruments. Its Mars weather measurements have become scarce, and in the next month or so, it will stop listening for quakes.

Banerdt said he fears the lander could miss some big quakes, but it's worth it to keep the robot alive. If InSight's batteries die, he added, "it's a good zombie spacecraft" – meaning it's programmed to recharge and start up again once the sun comes out.

"The problem with that scenario is that in the meantime, the spacecraft is very, very cold. And this is happening during the coldest part of the year for the spacecraft," Banerdt said. "A lot of the electronics is pretty delicate. And it's, unfortunately, pretty likely that something would be damaged by the cold."

Banerdt suspects that's what happened to the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. Both ran out of energy on the Martian surface and were unable to power up again. He's hopeful that InSight won't have to die, though.

"Right now, our predictions, our projections are that we should be able to make it through the lowest-power point and come out the other side," Banerdt said.

Still, an odd dust storm in the next four or five months could tip the scales by piling more dirt onto InSight's solar panels. That's what happened to Opportunity. But luckily, it's not dust-storm season.

"We think we're pretty well off, but Mars is unpredictable. We never know exactly what's going to happen," Banerdt said.

Read full article at ScienceAlert

NASA again delays first flight of Mars helicopter

Daily Pioneer 14 April, 2021 - 11:36pm

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The US space agency, which is yet to declare a new date for the attempt, earlier rescheduled the flight after a test completed earlier than planned.

The Ingenuity team has now identified a software solution for the command sequence issue identified during a planned high-speed spin-up test of the helicopter's rotors.

"Over the weekend, the team considered and tested multiple potential solutions to this issue, concluding that minor modification and reinstallation of Ingenuity's flight control software is the most robust path forward," NASA said in a statement this week.

This software update will modify the process by which the two flight controllers boot up, allowing the hardware and software to safely transition to the flight state, it added.

"Once we have passed these milestones, we will prepare Ingenuity for its first flight, which will take several sols, or Mars days," NASA said.

"Our best estimate of a targeted flight date is fluid right now, but we are working toward achieving these milestones and will set a flight date next week," it added.

NASA said that Ingenuity continues to be healthy on the surface on Mars and critical functions such as power, communications, and thermal control are stable.

The Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, is a technology demonstration to test powered flight on another world for the first time. It hitched a ride to Mars on the Perseverance rover, which made a February 18 touch down on the Red Planet.

NASA's Lander Is About to Die on Mars

Interesting Engineering 14 April, 2021 - 06:21pm

A robot is fighting to survive the Martian winter.

Worth $800 million, the robotic lander initially touched down in a Martian plain called Elysium Planitia in 2018, and has in its lifespan detected more than 500 Mars quakes, launched the study of the Red Planet's core to new depths, and monitored the passage of more than 10,000 dust devils.

However, this long list of scientific breakthroughs may come to a sudden end as the unforgiving coldness of Mars' weather could bring all operations to a permanent halt.

As of writing, the InSight lander is in hibernation mode while NASA engineers work to keep it from losing what's left of its precious life.

InSight's landing area is unique. Called Elysium Planitia, it lacks the powerful wind gusts that NASA's Perseverance rover enjoys. Wind gusts are also called "cleaning events," since they blow accumulating Martian dust off of the solar panels of NASA robots. Without this natural wind, the dust builds into a thick, sun-blocking layer — and this is what happened to InSight, leaving it practically incapable of absorbing sunlight to generate more energy.

In February, InSight's solar panels generated roughly 27% of their total energy capacity — which is when winter comes in Elysium Planitia. So NASA deliberately ordered InSight to enter "hibernation mode," which turns off varying instruments every day. But soon the robot will be forced to shut off all functions unnecessary for survival.

However, there's hope. In halting all scientific operations, the InSight lander should be able to spare enough crucial power to maintain a warm environment for its systems to last through the deathly-cold nights on Mars — when temperatures plummet to negative 130°F (-90°C).

"The amount of power available over the next few months will really be driven by the weather," said Insight's Project Manager Chuck Scott, in an official statement. We're nearly halfway through the robot's planned hibernation period, but while InSight appears good-to-go for now, the risk of a potentially fatal power loss has not subsided in the least. If the robot's batteries die, it could spell doom for the intrepid lander.

"We would be hopeful that we'd be able to bring it back to life, especially if it's not asleep or dead for a long period of time," said InSight's Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt, in an Insider report. "But that would be a dicey situation." NASA plans to restart InSight's full operations once the Red Planet wings closer to the sun in July of this year. If it pulls through the harrowing winter weather of Mars, the robotic lander might continue listening for quakes and studying weather into 2022.

InSight's lack of power influenced NASA's decision to abandon the lander's "mole" this January. It was designed to burrow into the surface and measure the temperatures deep inside the crust of Mars — data sorely needed to grasp the deep history of the Red Planet, in addition to its internal structure. But scientists are having to surrender access to more data while the lander shuts down its instruments — with weather measurements becoming rare, and quake signals expected to cease in the next month or so.

Banderdt thins the lander might miss some big ones, too — but it's better to save the entire lander than sacrifice all future measurements for one alone. If or when InSight loses battery power, explained the scientist, "it's a good zombie spacecraft" — which means it will actively recharge and restart once it has access to sunlight.

"The problem with that scenario is that in the meantime, the spacecraft is very, very cold," added Banderdt. "And this is happening during the coldest part of the year for the spacecraft. A lot of the electronics is pretty delicate."

"And it's, unfortunately, pretty likely that something would be damaged by the cold."

While the signs point to doom and gloom for NASA's InSight lander, it could get worse. If a random dust storm flares up in the next four or five months, even more dust might pile up onto InSight's solar panels. Lucky for the robot, this isn't dust-storm season. "We think we're pretty well off, but Mars is unpredictable," added Banerdt. "We never know exactly what's going to happen."

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NASA’s Mars InSight lander may be in deep trouble

BGR 14 April, 2021 - 05:18pm

Of all the missions that NASA has sent to Mars over the past decade, the InSight lander might be the one that has caused the most problems. The lander successfully touched down on Mars a couple of years back and it quickly became clear that something wasn’t working as intended when it deployed its self-hammering “mole” probe. The InSight team spent months and months trying to get it to work before eventually giving up. At the same time, its seismic sensors have returned data, but a good chunk of that data is believed to have been created by the brisk wind moving over the surface and not actual “Marsquakes.”

Still, despite these shortcomings, NASA has been able to collect a lot of valuable data from InSight, and it’s far from a failure. In fact, it performed well enough that NASA granted the two-year primary mission (which ended in late 2020) a two-year extension. Unfortunately, the probe is now in an emergency hibernation mode due to the dust that is covering its solar panels. If NASA doesn’t get lucky, the lander may face the same fate as the Opportunity rover, and that’s not good.

You’ll probably remember the fate of Opportunity, which found itself caught in a planet-wide dust storm that cut off its power when light couldn’t reach its solar panels. The freezing temperatures eventually killed the rover and it never woke back up. InSight isn’t nearly as old as Opportunity was when it dealt with its hardships, but the lander is still struggling in the face of dust accumulating on its solar array.

According to a new NASA post, InSight’s panels are currently generating a mere 27% of the power they were designed to provide. That lost power is a direct result of the dust that has built up on the lander’s solar panels since it landed.

Additionally, InSight’s team chose a landing site in Elysium Planitia, a windswept plain on the Red Planet’s equator that receives lots of sunlight. It was hoped that passing dust devils might clean off the panels, which happened many times with Spirit and Opportunity, allowing them to last years past their design lifetime.

Unfortunately, InSight hasn’t been nearly as lucky. It has spotted many dust devils during its time on the planet but none have lined up with the lander, and the dust just keeps piling up. The more dust that settles on InSight, the less power its panels can provide. So, in order to give the lander the best chance of surviving until its panels are (hopefully) cleared, NASA has put it in a hibernation mode to save power.

In the short term, NASA is going to have InSight take some photos of its solar array to get a better idea of how dusty they really are. They’ll then fire up the small motors that controlled the deployment of the array when the probe landed to see if they can vibrate some dust off the panels. Aside from that, NASA can merely wait and hope that a dust devil sweeps over the lander and cleans its panels.

NASA Takes Emergency Action to Save Dying Mars Lander

Futurism 14 April, 2021 - 11:08am

InSight, which has been conducting important research on the surface of Mars since it landed in 2018, is caked in so much dust that its solar panels can’t harness enough energy to stay operational, Insider reports. NASA has been gradually powering down InSight’s instruments and putting the lander into hibernation mode to save energy, and the agency seems optimistic that it will pull through. But Mars’ weather is unpredictable, and another dust storm could be enough to kill the rover for good.

NASA typically relies on powerful gusts of wind to clear off the solar panels on its Mars landers and rovers. But there hasn’t been a breeze in Elysium Planitia, InSight’s landing spot, so dangerous quantities of dust have piled up.

Over the next month, Insider reports, NASA scientists will likely put InSight into a complete hibernation mode so it can conserve its batteries and focus entirely on staying operational until the Martian summer begins. Even InSight’s batteries do die, InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt expects it to eventually return like a “zombie spacecraft” when the planet travels closer to the Sun.

“We would be hopeful that we’d be able to bring it back to life, especially if it’s not asleep or dead for a long period of time,” Banerdt told Insider. “But that would be a dicey situation.”

But without power or heat, many of InSight’s instruments and components, which Banerdt told Insider are “pretty delicate,” could be irreparably damaged or destroyed by the harsh colds of the Martian winter.

NASA thinks the imperiled lander will survive the winter in some shape or form, Banerdt told Insider. But if just one dust storm hits InSight in the next few months before summer begins, it could all be over. Unfortunately, there’s not much left to do but wait and see what happens.

READ MORE: NASA’s InSight Mars lander is in emergency hibernation. If it can’t save its batteries, it could die. [Insider]

More on InSight: Mars Lander Detects Mysterious “Marsquakes”

NASA's InSight Mars lander is going into emergency hibernation. If it can't save its batteries, it could die.

Yahoo News 14 April, 2021 - 07:31am

InSight will shut down science instruments to keep its electronics warm through the Martian winter.

But a dust storm could tip the scales and drain InSight's batteries, possibly killing it for good.

See more stories on Insider's business page.

NASA's $800 million Mars lander is in an energy crisis.

InSight, which landed in a Martian plain called Elysium Planitia in 2018, has detected more than 500 Mars quakes, felt more than 10,000 dust devils pass by, and started to measure the planet's core.

But over the past few months, InSight has been fighting for its life as the red planet's unpredictable weather threatens to snuff out the robot.

Unlike other sites where NASA has sent rovers and landers - including the landing spot of the new Perseverance rover and its Mars helicopter - powerful gusts of wind have not been sweeping Elysium Planitia. These winds, called "cleaning events," are needed to blow the red Martian dust off the solar panels of NASA's robots. Without their help, a thick layer of dust has accumulated on InSight, and it's struggling to absorb sunlight.

InSight's solar panels were producing just 27% of their energy capacity in February, when winter was arriving in Elysium Planitia. So NASA decided to start incrementally turning off different instruments on the lander. Soon the robot will go into "hibernation mode," shutting down all functions that aren't necessary for its survival.

By pausing its scientific operations, the lander should be able to save enough power to keep its systems warm through the frigid Martian nights, when temperatures can drop to negative-130 degrees Fahrenheit.

"The amount of power available over the next few months will really be driven by the weather," Chuck Scott, InSight's project manager, said in a statement.

InSight is still in good condition - it's even using its robotic arm - but the risk of a potentially fatal power failure is ever-present. If the lander's batteries die, it might never recover.

"We would be hopeful that we'd be able to bring it back to life, especially if it's not asleep or dead for a long period of time," Bruce Banerdt, InSight's principal investigator, told Insider. "But that would be a dicey situation."

The agency expects to restart InSight's full operations after Mars swings back toward the sun in July. If it can survive this Martian winter, the lander could keep listening for quakes and tracking weather into 2022.

InSight's power shortage contributed to NASA's decision to abandon the lander's "mole" in January. That burrowing probe was supposed to measure the temperature deep in the Martian crust - crucial data in the study of the planet's history and internal structure.

Now scientists will miss out on even more data as the lander shuts down its instruments. Its Mars weather measurements have become scarce, and in the next month or so, it will stop listening for quakes.

Banerdt said he fears the lander could miss some big quakes, but it's worth it to keep the robot alive. If InSight's batteries die, he added, "it's a good zombie spacecraft" - meaning it's programmed to recharge and start up again once the sun comes out.

"The problem with that scenario is that in the meantime, the spacecraft is very, very cold. And this is happening during the coldest part of the year for the spacecraft," Banerdt said. "A lot of the electronics is pretty delicate. And it's, unfortunately, pretty likely that something would be damaged by the cold."

Banerdt suspects that's what happened to the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. Both ran out of energy on the Martian surface and were unable to power up again. He's hopeful that InSight won't have to die, though.

"Right now, our predictions, our projections are that we should be able to make it through the lowest-power point and come out the other side," Banerdt said.

Still, an odd dust storm in the next four or five months could tip the scales by piling more dirt onto InSight's solar panels. That's what happened to Opportunity. But luckily, it's not dust-storm season.

"We think we're pretty well off, but Mars is unpredictable. We never know exactly what's going to happen," Banerdt said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Of all the missions that NASA has sent to Mars over the past decade, the InSight lander might be the one that has caused the most problems. The lander successfully touched down on Mars a couple of years back and it quickly became clear that something wasn't working as intended when it deployed its self-hammering "mole" probe. The InSight team spent months and months trying to get it to work before eventually giving up. At the same time, its seismic sensors have returned data, but a good chunk of that data is believed to have been created by the brisk wind moving over the surface and not actual "Marsquakes." Still, despite these shortcomings, NASA has been able to collect a lot of valuable data from InSight, and it's far from a failure. In fact, it performed well enough that NASA granted the two-year primary mission (which ended in late 2020) a two-year extension. Unfortunately, the probe is now in an emergency hibernation mode due to the dust that is covering its solar panels. If NASA doesn't get lucky, the lander may face the same fate as the Opportunity rover, and that's not good. You'll probably remember the fate of Opportunity, which found itself caught in a planet-wide dust storm that cut off its power when light couldn't reach its solar panels. The freezing temperatures eventually killed the rover and it never woke back up. InSight isn't nearly as old as Opportunity was when it dealt with its hardships, but the lander is still struggling in the face of dust accumulating on its solar array. According to a new NASA post, InSight's panels are currently generating a mere 27% of the power they were designed to provide. That lost power is a direct result of the dust that has built up on the lander's solar panels since it landed. Additionally, InSight’s team chose a landing site in Elysium Planitia, a windswept plain on the Red Planet’s equator that receives lots of sunlight. It was hoped that passing dust devils might clean off the panels, which happened many times with Spirit and Opportunity, allowing them to last years past their design lifetime. Unfortunately, InSight hasn't been nearly as lucky. It has spotted many dust devils during its time on the planet but none have lined up with the lander, and the dust just keeps piling up. The more dust that settles on InSight, the less power its panels can provide. So, in order to give the lander the best chance of surviving until its panels are (hopefully) cleared, NASA has put it in a hibernation mode to save power. In the short term, NASA is going to have InSight take some photos of its solar array to get a better idea of how dusty they really are. They'll then fire up the small motors that controlled the deployment of the array when the probe landed to see if they can vibrate some dust off the panels. Aside from that, NASA can merely wait and hope that a dust devil sweeps over the lander and cleans its panels.

Mars seems to have an Earth-like interior that's wrapped in a dry, moon-like crust. But scientists are missing the biggest, most revealing quakes.

All eyes were on Mars this past weekend when NASA had scheduled the first flight of its Ingenuity helicopter. It was supposed to be a monumental moment for NASA, the scientific community, and humanity as a whole, but it ended with a whimper as NASA had to delay the test flight due to some messed up data it received from the tiny aircraft. It wasn't immediately clear what the problem was, and that was perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the delay, but it now looks like NASA has figured things out and will be able to fix the helicopter without much trouble. NASA originally noticed a problem when they switch the helicopter over from a pre-flight mode to flight mode, which is essentially telling the helicopter that it's about to fly. In doing this, the helicopter returned a worrisome alert its engineers have been working to figure out what might have caused the red flag ever since. In a new update, NASA says that it has things pretty much figured out and will be able to correct the error with a simple software update. That's the good news, but there is also some bad news. As you can probably imagine, the software that runs an autonomous aircraft built to fly on another planet is, well, pretty complicated. NASA says that it can build the update easily, but sending it to Mars and going through all of the vital checks will take some time. While the development of the new software change is straightforward, the process of validating it and completing its uplink to Ingenuity will take some time. A detailed timeline for rescheduling the high-speed spin-up test and first flight is still in process. The process of updating Ingenuity’s flight control software will follow established processes for validation with careful and deliberate steps to move the new software through the rover to the base station and then to the helicopter. The good thing about all of this is that the helicopter has a friend alongside it as it gets its new smarts. The Perseverance rover, which is hanging out in the area where it dropped the chopper off, acts as a base station that will receive the software update and then push that new program to the helicopter itself. It's a slick little process that NASA believes will work well, and we'll get to see it in action for the first time. Once the software is built, the update will be sent to the helicopter, at which point a number of other system checks have to be performed. Once booted up on the new software, the helicopter will need to spend several Martian days just chilling out before it can even begin its flight test. That means the tentative "no earlier than" date of this coming Thursday is out the window, and it may be a week or even several weeks before NASA feels comfortable taking the helicopter for a spin.

There's a growing weak spot in Earth's magnetic field. Scientists say it may be due to giant pieces of an ancient planet buried inside Earth.

Until the Air Force has retired the whole B-1B fleet, at least one is expected to remain in use in a new role to ensure the others can keep flying.

In the world of astronomy, there would be no bigger accomplishment than finding life on a planet outside of Earth. We know there's no intelligent life in our solar system outside of Earth. There's still a chance we find some form of life on Mars or, better yet, beneath the icy crusts of moons like Enceladus or Europa, but if we want to find extraterrestrial life we might have to look to other star systems for it. That means attempting to glean information from observations made at an incredible distance, and as a new research paper published in AGU Advances points out, we might end up "finding" life that isn't really there. In the paper, the authors explain that current telescope technology may ultimately produce false positives when researchers are trying to find signs of life in other worlds. They say that while we may be able to detect the presence of oxygen in a planet's atmosphere with greater and greater reliability, this isn't enough to declare a planet habitable, much less determine if there's life present there. Telescopes capable of "characterizing planetary environments" would be absolutely critical for scientists hoping to prove life exists on another world. This means detecting other so-called "biosignatures" that hint at the presence of life in addition to the fact that a planet may have oxygen available. "This is useful because it shows there are ways to get oxygen in the atmosphere without life, but there are other observations you can make to help distinguish these false positives from the real deal," Joshua Krissansen-Totton, first author of the study, said in a statement. "For each scenario, we try to say what your telescope would need to be able to do to distinguish this from biological oxygen." The issue here isn't so much that oxygen is a poor indicator of life. Indeed, oxygen is, as far as we know, required for life to exist on a planet, so finding it in a planet's atmosphere would be a very big step toward determining habitability. However, we know that oxygen could exist on a planet without life, since the breakdown of water from radiation could also cause oxygen to built up in a planet's atmosphere. At the same time, geological events can produce an abundance of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and seeing all of these gasses together around a planet might make scientists jump to the conclusion that there is life there when in reality it's nothing more than a wet, lifeless rock. "If you run the model for Earth, with what we think was the initial inventory of volatiles, you reliably get the same outcome every time—without life you don't get oxygen in the atmosphere," Krissansen-Totton explains. "But we also found multiple scenarios where you can get oxygen without life."

The company’s revenue has tripled since the change was implemented

Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday it was concerned about Iran's intention to start enriching uranium to 60% purity and said such a move could not be considered part of a peaceful nuclear programme. A foreign ministry statement called on Iran to avoid escalation and engage seriously in talks with global powers about a 2015 nuclear pact. Iran's announcement about its plan to enrich to 60%, bringing the fissile material closer to the 90% level suitable for a nuclear bomb, came after Tehran accused Israel of sabotaging a key nuclear installation and ahead of the resumption of nuclear talks in Vienna.

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The official made these comments in light of rising COVID cases in Japan. The country is now less than 100 days from the opening of the Tokyo Games.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance has agreed to withdraw its roughly 7,000 non-American forces from Afghanistan to match U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to pull all American troops from the country starting on May 1. Stoltenberg said the full withdrawal would be completed “within a few months” but did not mention the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks set as a goal by Biden. There are between 7,000 and 7,500 non-U.S. NATO troops currently in Afghanistan.

Weird 'blue' dunes speckle the surface of Mars in NASA photo

Space.com 14 April, 2021 - 06:13am

The gorgeous photo from NASA's Odyssey orbiter released April 8 reveals the extreme and varying temperatures in a sea of dunes at Mars' northern polar cap, which are formed into long and weaving lines by winds over time. The Red Planet does not actually have blue patches; the blue regions in this false-color image represent colder areas, and warmer features are seen as a yellowish-orange color, NASA officials said.

The image depicts an area about 19 miles (30 kilometers) wide, but the total scope of dunes at Mars' northern polar cap stretches out much farther, covering an area the size of Texas. 

In photos: Mars caves and lava tubes

Sand dunes can be found in various locations around the Red Planet. From the polar region depicted in this image to the floors of craters and more, Mars' dunes are fascinating features on the planet's surface. Some of the dunes on the planet have even been spotted covered in frost, which comes and goes with the seasons.

While NASA released the new image April 8, it is composed of images captured from December 2002 to November 2004 by the THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System) instrument on board NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter. The image is part of a set of photos released recently to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Odyssey, which launched on April 7, 2001 and began observing Mars in October of that year. 

Odyssey  is stilly studying the Red Planet; it holds the record for the longest active spacecraft continuously orbiting another planet. The craft's primary mission has been to study Mars' environment and collect data to inform and protect future Mars missions. Aside from THEMIS, the craft carries instruments called GRS (Gamma Ray Spectrometer) and MARIE ( Mars Radiation Environment Experiment). 

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NASA again postpones first flight of Mars helicopter - OrissaPOST

OrissaPOST 14 April, 2021 - 04:52am

Washington: NASA has again decided to delay the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s first experimental flight due to technical concerns.

The US space agency, which is yet to declare a new date for the attempt, earlier rescheduled the flight after a test completed earlier than planned.

The Ingenuity team has now identified a software solution for the command sequence issue identified during a planned high-speed spin-up test of the helicopter’s rotors.

“Over the weekend, the team considered and tested multiple potential solutions to this issue, concluding that minor modification and reinstallation of Ingenuity’s flight control software is the most robust path forward,” NASA said in a statement this week.

This software update will modify the process by which the two flight controllers boot up, allowing the hardware and software to safely transition to the flight state, it added.

“Once we have passed these milestones, we will prepare Ingenuity for its first flight, which will take several sols, or Mars days,” NASA said.

“Our best estimate of a targeted flight date is fluid right now, but we are working toward achieving these milestones and will set a flight date next week,” it added.

NASA said that Ingenuity continues to be healthy on the surface on Mars and critical functions such as power, communications, and thermal control are stable.

The Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, is a technology demonstration to test powered flight on another world for the first time. It hitched a ride to Mars on the Perseverance rover, which made a February 18 touch down on the Red Planet.

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NASA's InSight lander has detected more than 500 Mars quakes, but the big ones are mysteriously missing

Business Insider 14 April, 2021 - 12:00am

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"We would have expected a few magnitude 4 events, and maybe even a magnitude 5 at this point, given the number of smaller quakes," Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator for InSight, told Insider.

Instead, most of the quakes have been so quiet that the average Californian wouldn't even notice them. The four biggest Mars quakes InSight's seismometer has felt ranged in magnitude from 3.1 to 3.6.

So Mars seismologists are beginning to scratch their heads. Either the InSight team has just gotten unlucky, or Mars can't produce big quakes at all. If it's the latter, Banerdt said, "we don't really know what that means yet."

The reason scientists are so interested in Mars' movement is that measuring quakes can reveal what the interior of the planet looks like. So far, Insight's readings have indicated that Mars may have Earth-like layers deep below its crust, which are wrapped in a moon-like outer shell that's been battered by asteroids.

But really big quakes would help scientists see deep into the Martian core, which could yield clues about how the planet was born and how it has evolved over time. A better understanding of Mars' insides could be crucial in our efforts to find other worlds that might host life.

"By looking at Mars' core and looking at Mars' crust, and understanding that these haven't changed very much in the last 4.5 billion years, we can get a glimpse into what the Earth might have looked like very early on," Banerdt said. "Mars is helping us to understand just how rocky planets form and how they evolve in general."

Banerdt and his team hope to figure out why they're not seeing big quakes on Mars — either so they'll know how to better look for them in a future mission, or so they can pinpoint what about the Martian interior makes major quakes so scarce.

Listening for a planet's quakes is like doing a CAT scan. When doctors do that kind of scan, a machine sends X-rays through your body, then analyzes how the waves come back at different times and in different directions. That enables them to "piece together the 3D geometry of what's going on inside your body," Banerdt said.

With InSight, he continued, "we're doing the same thing with a planet, using Mars quakes as our 'radiation waves,' and the seismometer is the detector."

Scientists used to think that Mars must have a crust like Earth's, which has been smoothed out by geologic activity like the movement of tectonic plates and the bubbling of molten magma from below. But InSight's seismometer has painted a more nuanced picture.

"It's somewhere between the moon and the Earth in the way it transmits seismic waves," Banerdt said.

On the moon, the crust has been broken up because of asteroid impacts, which gives seismic waves more cracks and surfaces to bounce off. It's as if they're doing a "drunken walk," Banerdt said, and that leads moon quakes to last for hours.

On Earth, seismic waves don't reverberate that much, so they weaken quickly. Moisture in our planet's crust also allows it to absorb some of their energy. As a result, earthquakes usually last just a few seconds, though really big ones can last minutes.

Mars quakes, meanwhile, generally seem to last about 10 to 40 minutes.

The first few hundred tremblings InSight picked up on Mars behaved similarly to those on the moon. But because they were so small, they only enabled scientists to analyze the makeup of the upper layer of the crust. The handful of larger quakes — which gave the InSight team a peek at deeper layers — have acted more like earthquakes.

"I think maybe Mars has an outer layer which is rather lunar-like," Banerdt said. "It's quite broken up by impacts. But deeper into the planet, into the mantle, it appears like it might be more Earth-like."

InSight's Mars quakes follow a similar pattern to earthquakes: The higher the magnitude, the rarer the quake.

"You get fewer and fewer quakes as as you get larger and larger numbers, and it follows a sort of an exponential law," Banerdt said.

So far, the tail end of that exponential graph is missing. It could just be a quiet period on Mars — planets can have spells with lots of seismic activity and dry periods with no big quakes. But Banerdt suspects that InSight's data points to a larger trend.

"It looks like there are fewer large quakes on Mars, relative to the number of small quakes, than we would expect. It's a little bit puzzling," he said. "We're still trying to figure out what explanations for that could be."

It's possible that NASA just didn't pick a good spot to hunt for big quakes. On Earth, there are plenty of areas that never see major earthquakes. Or maybe Mars just never shakes that much.

"It could be also related to the gravity, it could be related to the thickness of the brittle layer, it could be related to a lot of things. But right now, we really don't have a handle on that," Banerdt said. "It's an ongoing area of research."

The longer InSight waits and listens, the more likely it is to catch a big quake. Unfortunately, the lander is about to take a weeks-long break during peak quake-listening time.

That's because the Elysium Planitia, where InSight landed, has surprised NASA with its lack of wind. There is some wind – enough to drown out the seismic noise of some faraway quakes. But it's not enough to keep red Martian dust off of InSight's solar panels.

Now, the Martian winter is setting in and a thick layer of dust is taxing the robot's energy production. So NASA has decided to put InSight into hibernation. In February, the lander began incrementally shutting off its scientific instruments, conserving power to keep itself warm.

In June, NASA expects to shut down InSight's scientific operations entirely until Mars swings back toward the sun in July.

The seismometer is still running, but Banerdt expects to shut it down in a month or so. That will be in the middle of the "optimum" time for detecting Mars quakes, he said, since winds die down in the depths of winter. Reduced windiness allows the seismometer to pick up distant quakes with less interference.

"We're hoping to keep the seismometer going as long as we can, then start it up again — you know, after we pass this low-power time — turn it on as quickly as we can," Banerdt said. "But we will probably be missing some things in between."

If InSight survives its power shortage, the seismometer could keep listening for quakes into 2022. 

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