NASA seeks to res­cue Op­por­tu­nity rover

Hav­ing lost con­tact with the rover in June, en­gi­neers are wait­ing for the Mar­tian skies to clear

All About Space - - Launch Pad -

NASA sci­en­tists have iden­ti­fied key signs which should en­able them to touch base with the Mars Op­por­tu­nity rover months af­ter it be­came lost to ra­dio si­lence.

Space agency staff lost con­tact with Op­por­tu­nity on 10 June this year when a dust storm en­cir­cled the Red Planet and blot­ted out the Mar­tian skies.

It was the first time the rover had be­come cut off af­ter trundling across the sur­face of Mars for close to 14 years and, hav­ing landed on the Red Planet in 2004, sci­en­tists are hope­ful that its bat­ter­ies – which were in good health prior to the storm – have held up well.

With that in mind a bid to re­cover the rover is in full swing, with NASA mon­i­tor­ing Op­por­tu­nity daily. First they are wait­ing for the skies to clear so that the rover can re­ceive enough sun­light to recharge the bat­ter­ies. They are do­ing this by keep­ing an eye on the wide-an­gle cam­era on NASA's Mars Re­con­nais­sance Or­biter in the hope that the planet's sur­face fea­tures will soon be­come vis­i­ble.

Once the amount of sun­light reaches a tau of less than 2.0, it should be able to power up. On 10 June, how­ever, the tau mea­sure­ment was at 10.8; the higher this number reads, the less sun­light is avail­able. As­sum­ing it does end up recharg­ing, NASA will then use the Deep Space Net­work to ping the rover dur­ing ‘wake up’ times be­fore search­ing for sig­nals in re­sponse.

Fur­ther to that, en­gi­neers will be look­ing out for the fault mode that Op­por­tu­nity is likely to have en­tered on 10 June. This could be a low-power fault which causes the rover to hi­ber­nate un­til there's enough sun­light to recharge it. A big­ger prob­lem would be a clock fault, in which case it would be more dif­fi­cult for it to know when it should com­mu­ni­cate, al­though it can as­sume the time by de­tect­ing sun­light in­creases. An up­loss fault would cause the rover to seek new ways to com­mu­ni­cate with ground con­trol since it would in­di­cate the rover's com­mu­ni­ca­tion equip­ment has taken a bit of a hit.

Un­for­tu­nately, NASA says com­mu­ni­ca­tion won't be im­me­di­ate. En­gi­neers will have to un­der­stand the state it is in, check its tem­per­a­ture, re­set the clock, have it take pho­tos in case of dam­age and then work out the best time to at­tempt a full re­cov­ery. Even then, there is a chance that the rover will not act in the same way when it wakes be­cause of such pro­longed in­ac­tiv­ity. This could cause the bat­tery to hold less juice, mak­ing fu­ture op­er­a­tions more dif­fi­cult.

“A bid to re­cover the rover is in full swing”

An artist's con­cept im­age of Op­por­tu­nity, which landed on Mars in 2004

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