NASA’s InSight lander arrived on the surface of Mars in late 2018, designed to explore the interior of the red planet for the first time. Although some aspects of the mission did not go according to plan, the lander lasted longer in harsh conditions than expected. However, nothing can last forever, and NASA says that is the mission ends later this year. It will start shutting down InSight tools to save energy in just a few weeks.
Initially, NASA hoped to get two years of work from InSight, a sign that has long passed. There’s nothing wrong with the lander, but unlike the seemingly timeless Curiosity rover, the InSight is stationary and relies on two 7-foot solar panels. The atmosphere on Mars is dusty and a layer of particles has accumulated on the panels (see above). As power reserves dwindle, InSight will soon be offline forever.
InSight arrived on Mars on November 26, 2018 and in the coming weeks went down in history by deploying the first seismic sensor on another planet. This instrument allowed scientists to measure earthquakes, most of which are slightly more than a quiet rumble compared to earthquakes. However, the tremor allowed NASA to characterize the interior of the planet like never before. At the time, InSight’s solar panels were able to generate 5,000 watts every Martian day, but now the figure has dropped to just ten percent.
NASA knew that day was coming, but it was ahead of late last year when it used spoons filled with sand to remove some of the fine dust from the panels. However, Mars is now focusing on the long winter season, during which sunlight will be lower, which will further reduce the productivity of solar panels. There is some hope that the wind can clear the solar panels of dust, which has happened in the past with the rovers Spirit and Opportunity. If 25 percent of the panels are dusted, the lander could continue to do research, but at the current rate of decline, NASA plans to shut down InSight’s non-seismic instruments in late May.
With some adjustments, InSight should still be able to operate in a limited way until the end of 2022. NASA will turn on the seismometer at night when the winds are weaker and it is easier for the instrument to detect earthquakes, but it will happen insolvent since later this summer. He will still be able to wake up to send weather data and images from time to time, but even that will no longer be possible until December. About that time, the team expects InSight to fall asleep and never wake up again, but the data it has acquired will be of interest for years to come.