back to article NASA's InSight lander expected to survive most of summer before choking to death on Martian dust

Amid reports of declining power levels, NASA's InSight lander looks set to keep its science instruments running for most of summer. InSight has been on Mars since 2018 and far surpassed its original mission duration. However, despite the probe's longevity, its lifespan is dictated by the twin masters of funding and power. The …

  1. NoneSuch Silver badge

    Park It At Any Street Corner.

    There will be a homeless guy with a squeegee there ASAP.

    1. FILE_ID.DIZ
      Thumb Up

      Re: Park It At Any Street Corner.

      You got a Benz, I got a Busket!

  2. Pen-y-gors

    Learning point.

    For future missions - just attach a small feather duster to the arm. Really wouldn't add much weight.

    1. NicX

      Re: Learning point.

      "Why not a brush or blower to clear the dust? "Equipping the spacecraft with brushes or fans to clear off dust would add weight and failure points," explained NASA."

      Literally in the article mate

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Learning point.

        I was wondering, if the panels have to track the Sun (and I don't think these do) then if you added a bit more range to the pivot, you could flip the panels over for cleaning.

        1. druck Silver badge

          Re: Learning point.

          Find dust tends to be electrostatically attracted and wont fall off by turning the panels upside down.

          1. bombastic bob Silver badge

            Re: Learning point.

            if it's electrostatic attraction, would a sudden electrostatic jolt of opposite polarity make the dust fall?

            Not much, just alternating capacitive discharge on a mildly conductive surface while inverted...

            (you'd have to make the surface out of conductive plastic though, like ESD bags)

      2. Potemkine! Silver badge

        Re: Learning point.

        Take a microfiber cleaning cloth, and use the robot arm to clean the solar panel.The weight a such a cloth is quite low, around 2g for a piece with a surface of 100 cm²

        1. Intractable Potsherd

          Re: Learning point.

          Yes, but think of the extra engineering needed to make the arm flick the cloth clean.

          1. 0laf

            Re: Learning point.

            I guess the landers will get through their primary mission without dust causing a problem just fine, so why bother with an expensive solution to what isn't really a problem.

      3. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

        Re: Learning point.

        So NASA's explanation is that they don't want to add a possible failure point to get rid of define failure point.

  3. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Excellent engineering

    All of the landers that have survived the approach to and landing on Mars seem to have exceeded their original mission lifetimes. It really is impressive that the thing that is worrying NASA is the dust on the solar panels rather than some failing equipment.

    It would be sad to see the end of the mission, but congrats to NASA for a successful mission.

    1. TVU Silver badge

      Re: Excellent engineering

      "It really is impressive that the thing that is worrying NASA is the dust on the solar panels rather than some failing equipment"

      What might help there is building in a fixed static inline into those solar panels so that dust particles are more likely to fall off (best compromise angle to be determined by NASA).

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Excellent engineering

        Doesn't help. Most of the dust on the panels is very very fine dust that is clinging to the surface through static charge, so eve, having them 90 degrees to the surface wouldn't help much. There is some theorizing that having the panels at an angle to the winds MIGHT help but that's not much more than vague theory afaik.

    2. FILE_ID.DIZ

      Re: Excellent engineering

      I could argue that these devices are poorly engineered.

      If a rover is supposed to have a one-year life (for example), but it goes for three years, that's over engineered. They could have cut some corners to cheapen the cost and perhaps its weight.

      I mean, if they're concerned about the weight of a brush, then every gram counts everywhere.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Excellent engineering

        *Primary* mission is a year, that's what got the bulk of the funding.

        A fairly small additional cost (in finances and mass) gives us massive secondary research.

      2. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Excellent engineering

        Yes, every gram counts, but they do all this engineering to make sure that it very definitely will last at least the length of the primary mission. The bathtub curve being what it is, a machine that is likely to survive the first year is then also very likely to keep going after that mission. Contrary to popular belief it's really really really hard to design something to FAIL after an exact amount of time if you don't know very exactly what conditions it will be subjected to. It's actually easier and safer to design something that will definitely last a certain amount of time even if you don't know the exact conditions (Because then you can assume worst case scenarios for everything).

        Every gram counts because all that is relevant to the reentry profile, heatshield, parachute, transfer stage, and launch vehicle. This goes far beyond just the lander itself.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Excellent engineering

        That's beancounter talk!

        1. FILE_ID.DIZ

          Re: Excellent engineering

          It is.

          Engineering is about compromise, usually along the lines of money, time to deliver and lifespan.

          But NASA doesn't seem to have any problems pushing back time to deliver, or exploding costs and apparently OK ignoring lifespan specs.

          Please know that I'm not discounting the extra science, but let's have a honest conversation about the above three.

          Hell, some of the overspending of some theoretical rover project could have been diverted to Arecibo for instance.

      4. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Excellent engineering

        Some digital cameras with interchangeable lenses have a sensor cleaning mode, which vibrates the sensor to shake off dust particles. I suspect that solar panels are far too large for such a cleaning system. Using a brush or cloth to clean the panels would require some pretty precise engineering to move the cleaning device over the panels softly so as not to damage them, but in contact so as to remove the dust particles. As Mars has dust storms it was hoped they would come to the rescue, but it seems they have not.

        A lot of the cost of the landers is, I expect, in the design, testing and evaluation of competing payloads. Cost is expended in designing the lightest possible device that can withstand the launch, space-travel and landing stresses, as well as 'life on Mars' (sorry) for over a year. It may well be possible to build something with the same experiments for a small fraction of the price, but it would doubtless be heavier, less robust and much more likely to have components that failed.

  4. Stuart Halliday
    Thumb Up

    Just needs to tilt the craft on it's side, even a little sideways rock may help?

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      The lander would then also need a giant hand attachment or perhaps a large mallet to give itself a robust tap to dislodge the dust.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge

        you made me think of something: ultrasonics

        (a transducer below the solar panel, start the noise to vibrate particles loose)

        that and my earlier idea of anti-static conductive coating and alternating the electrostatic potential to repel particles.

  5. gkwest

    No car wash on Mars, there’s an opportunity Elon!

  6. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Next time

    what about pumping the tiny atmosphere from Mars and use it to disperse the dust, like with a blow gun?

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Next time

      apparently it's too much extra weight. But yeah how many of us have used compressed air to blow dust off of things? (probably everyone reading El Reg)

      So yeah, building an air compressor to suck Martian air and pressurize to 50psi or so [good enough to blow dust off of things] is not the problem. The size and weight of that compressor is the problem.

  7. David Hicklin Bronze badge

    Static Charge ?

    Sounds like they need one of those static discharge strips that used to hang off the back bumper of cars then

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