Published: Tue, October 30, 2018
Science | By

Martian skies clearing, hope for Opportunity Rover


Should Opportunity fail to respond to active communications efforts, JPL will continue to listen for signals from the rover, but not attempt to send any commands. So far however - nothing.

Despite an incorrect media report, Summer is not fading at the Opportunity site in fact it hasn't even arrived yet!

NASA has continued to play space-themed songs in the hope of getting a response but the likes of David Bowie's classic "Life on Mars?' and 'Dust in the Wind" from poodle-haired soft metal group Kansas proved similarly unsuccessful in reviving it. The planet was 36.9 million miles from Earth. "Now there is a hierarchy to each of those faults, and we will have to unwrap each one of them as we go".

NASA really hit it out of the park when they designed and built the Opportunity rover. It was so bad that no surface markings could be identified.

NASA has provided a pretty solid update about Opportunity's status, building on the one they provided back on August 17. Its engineers are relying on the expertise of Mars scientists who have been analysing data aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to estimate the tau near the rover's position.

So our near term plan will be based upon MARCI tau observations, when the tau is confirmed to be at or below 1.5 for two successive measurements, a 45-day window will begin.

"At that point our active phase of reaching out to Opportunity will be at an end", Callas said.

The robot is battling a killer weather combination with the extreme dust storm, which is blocking light to its solar panels and coating it in a fine dust, while also fighting -100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. That effort addresses "the unlikely chance that there is a large amount of dust sitting on the solar arrays that is blocking the sun's energy", Callas said.


Sunlight is starting to break through the haze of the Martian storm, promising a ray of hope for the stranded Opportunity rover.

That said, NASA says there's a small chance that dust accumulation would be the reason Opportunity can't phone home, saying the storm could have caused all sorts of problems.

"I'll be blunt: 45 days is absurdly short, and certainly arbitrary", Scott Maxwell, another former Opportunity rover driver, said.

The additional several months for passive listening are an allowance for the possibility that a Red Planet dust devil could come along and literally dust off Opportunity's solar arrays.

Earlier this month, NASA revealed that the Mars dust storm is slowly abating, a process that may still have weeks or months left before conditions are clear.

The solar-powered Opportunity was trudging through Mars' Perseverance Valley when the storm struck.

"The Sun is breaking through the haze over Perseverance Valley, and soon there will be enough sunlight present that Opportunity should be able to recharge its batteries", John Callas, Opportunity project manager at JPL, said in a statement.

The team also knows that everything about the rover is well beyond its warranty period - both Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, were constructed for 90-day missions (Spirit lasted 20 times longer and Opportunity is going on 60 times). If the team doesn't hear back from Opportunity during that period of time, the space agency will assume that something has impacted the rover in a way that prevents its recovery.

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