NASA will have only 45 days to contact its rover Opportunity, as the Martian storm that caused its closure is finally cleared.
NASA said it has not recorded active storms near the rover for some time & # 39; and he hopes that soon he will have enough sun to light up.
However, operators admit that they are in a race against the clock and admit that if there is no signal after 45 days, the rover will probably never recover. & # 39;
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The panoramic camera of Opportunity (Pancam) took the images of the components of this view from a position outside the Endeavor Crater during the period between June 7 and June 19, 2017. It is one of the last images sent by the rover
"The Sun is breaking the haze on Perseverance Valley, and there will soon be enough sunlight for Opportunity to recharge its batteries," said John Callas, Opportunity's project manager at JPL.
& # 39; When the level of tau [a measure of the amount of particulate matter in the Martian sky] Falls below 1.5, we will begin a period of active attempts to communicate with the rover by sending commands through the antennas of NASA's Deep Space Network.
"Assuming we receive news from Opportunity, we will begin the process of discerning your status and bringing it back online."
With clear skies over Opportunity's resting place in the Perseverance Valley of Mars, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, believe that the solar rover of almost 15 years will soon receive enough sunlight to automatically start the recovery procedures. Rover is capable of doing it.
With the skies clear, mission managers expect the rover to try to call home, but they are also prepared for a long period of silence.
"If we do not receive news after 45 days, the team will be forced to conclude that the dust blocking the sun and the Martian cold have conspired to cause some kind of failure of which the rover probably will not recover," Callas said. .
The dust storm began on May 30 as a relatively small-scale event, but by June 20, it had become completely global. The images above show the dramatic changes in the characteristics of the visible surface, since the dust covered the entire planet. It began to disappear at the end of July
At that point, our active phase of reaching Opportunity will have come to an end. However, in the unlikely possibility that there is a large amount of dust in the solar panels that blocks the sun's energy, we will continue the passive listening efforts for several months. "
"In a situation like this one expects the best, but plan all the eventualities," said Callas.
"We are pulling our stubborn robin to pull its feet from the fire once more.
& # 39; And if he does, we'll be there to listen to him. & # 39;
The several additional months to listen passively are a concession for the possibility that a demon from the dust of the Red Planet may appear and literally dust off Opportunity's solar panels.
Such "clean-up events" were discovered by Mars rover teams in 2004 when, on several occasions, the battery levels aboard Spirit and Opportunity increased at several points during a single Martian night, when the logical expectation was that they would continue decreasing.
These devils of cleaning dust have even been captured by the two scouts on the surface and the orbiting spacecraft
NASA scientists first observed a dust storm on a smaller scale on May 30, but by June 20 it had become global. The high-resolution stereo camera aboard ESA's Mars Express captured this impressive outcrop of dust clouds, visible in the right half of the table
Every day during the passive phase, the JPL Radio Science group will go through the signal registers taken by a very sensitive broadband receiver of the radio frequencies that emanate from Mars, looking for a signal that the rover tries to reach.
Even if the team listens to Opportunity during any of the phases, there is no guarantee that the rover is operational.
The impact of this latest storm on Opportunity systems is unknown, but could have resulted in reduced power production, reduced battery performance or other unforeseen damages that could hinder the full return of the rover online.
It has been more than two weeks since NASA revealed that the massive dust storm that hit Mars since May has finally begun to disappear. But despite the clear skies, there has not yet been news of the rover Opportunity (artist's impression)
While the situation in Perseverance Valley is critical, the rover team is cautiously optimistic, knowing that Opportunity has overcome significant challenges during its more than 14 years on Mars.
The rover lost the use of its front address: its front left in June 2017 and the front right in 2005. Its 256 megabyte flash memory is no longer working.
The team also knows that everything related to the rover is beyond its warranty period: both Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, were built for 90-day missions (Spirit lasted 20 times longer and Opportunity 60).
The rovers were designed to travel around 1,000 yards, and Opportunity has recorded more than 28 miles.
WHAT IS THE ROVER OPPORTUNITY?
NASA launched the Opportunity rover as part of its Mars Exploration Rover program in 2004.
It landed on the Meridiani Planum of Mars near its equator on January 25, 2004.
It was assumed that Opportunity would only remain on Mars for 90 days, but now it has lasted an amazing 14 years.
In his life, Opportunity has explored two craters on the red planet, Victoria and Endeavor, and has found several water signs.
It survived a bad dust storm in 2007 and is now being closely watched to see if it can survive a massive storm that has an estimated opacity level of 10.8, a sharp increase from the previous storm of 5.5 tau.
NASA has made several updates to the spacecraft since it landed on Mars, as its flash memory.
In the following weeks, the characteristics of the surface have finally begun to reappear; At its height, the dust storm had covered all of Mars.
Opportunity has been "asleep", or in low power mode, since the beginning of June, since it expects clear skies and enough solar energy to charge its batteries.
Even if it reappears, however, NASA is anticipating the "complexity" with the rover's mission clock.
Without enough energy to hold your mission clock, which is thought to be the only instrument that still works, the phone will not know what time it is.