NASA attempts to force Opportunity rover to phone home

Engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California have started transmission a new set of commands to the Opportunity rover to try and get the rover to phone home. NASA promised that it would reassess the situation for the rover this month in October of last year, and is making good on that promise. Opportunity stopped communicating with Earth on June 10, 2018, as a massive dust storm blanketed the Red Planet.

NASA plans to send the new commands to the rover over the next several weeks. The commands are meant to address events that NASA has deemed low-likelihood that could have prevented Opportunity from contacting Earth over the last several months. NASA says that the new commands will be sent in addition to the "sweep and beep" commands that it has been sending to the Rover since September.

The new commands address three different potential scenarios including that the rover's primary X-band radio has failed, that both the primary and secondary X-band radios have failed, or that the rover's internal clock is offset. The internal clock is meant to provide a timeframe for the computer brain.

The commands being sent are meant to get the rover to switch to its backup X-band radio, and commands that will reset the clock and force the rover to respond via UHF. NASA is in a bit of a race with the weather on Mars right now.

Mars is currently in what NASA calls the dust clearing season where winds on the planet are strong and could clear any dust off the solar panels keeping the rover from charging its batteries. NASA notes that with winter coming on Mars and bringing with it extremely low temperatures, irreparable harm to the unpowered rover's batteries could happen. If Opportunity fails to respond to the commands, a new path forward will be determined.