Mars Opportunity Rover May Have Perished 'Honorably' During Dust Storm, Says NASA

Mars Opportunity Rover May Have Perished 'Honorably' During Dust Storm, Says NASA

Mars Opportunity Rover May Have Perished 'Honorably' During Dust Storm, Says NASA

Although the storm cleared eventually, the 15-year old rover is yet to re-communicate with Earth ever since. But her dedicated team isn't ready to give up on Opportunity just yet.

On January 25, 2019, the same day the government shutdown ended, NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab announced that it would be sending new commands to the rover in an attempt to compel to it contact Earth. The new commands will be sent in the coming weeks and will address the issues that are preventing Opportunity rover from transmitting signals. Another is that both its primary and secondary X-band radios have failed.

The Opportunity rover first landed on the planet in 2004.

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"The potential remedies being beamed up to address these unlikely events include a command for the rover to switch to its backup X-band radio and commands directed to reset the clock and respond via UHF [ultra high frequency]", the laboratory said, noting, however, that "a series of unlikely events" need to have occurred for any of these to be the case. That clock provides a time frame for the computer and its "brain". The solar panels might be covered with debris and they hope the windy season on Mars, which began a while ago, will blow away anything hindering the functionality of the solar panels and battery. The landing site for the Opportunity mission is in the southern hemisphere of Mars, and during southern winters Mars is also further away from the Sun, which means the is colder than the northern winter.

"We have and will continue to use multiple techniques in our attempts to contact the rover", said John Callas, project manager for Opportunity at the JPL. That obviously hasn't happened, so NASA is experimenting with new commands and signals that might do the trick.

That could be a risky time for Opportunity because extremely low temperatures can cause irreversible damage to the rover's batteries, wiring and computer systems.

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"Over the past seven months we have attempted to contact Opportunity over 600 times", Callas says. If not, the project team would have to consult with the Mars Program office at JPL and NASA headquarters "to determine the path forward".

NASA's Opportunity rover was launched on July 7, 2003, with its twin, Spirit. That's 15 years, not too shabby for a mission that was expected to only last 90 days. Before falling silent, it logged more than 28 miles. The U.S. space agency said the excessively cold temperatures would have likely been enough to cause critical components to become damaged.

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