NASA increases Opportunity rover recovery effort as sunlight returns

Brittany A. Roston - Sep 12, 2018, 2:52 pm CDT
NASA increases Opportunity rover recovery effort as sunlight returns

NASA is ramping up its Opportunity rover recovery efforts, revealing that its latest data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows an increasing amount of sunlight reaching the vehicle. Given the additional sunlight, NASA says its Opportunity team has started sending a greater number of commands to the rover — instead of sending these commands only three times a week, the scientists are now sending commands multiple times every day.

READ: NASA forms Opportunity rover rescue plan

Unlike Curiosity rover, which continues its operations on Mars, the Opportunity rover depends on sunlight for power. That was a problem earlier this year when a dust storm formed on Mars, eventually spanning the entire planet and blocking out sunlight.

Unable to use its solar arrays, Opportunity eventually went into a low-power mode to preserve what little charge it had left; all has been silent in the months since.

NASA reported in recent days that the Mars dust storm is abating; its most recent measurements show favorable amounts of sunlight reaching the rover’s solar arrays. As such, the space agency has started sending multiple commands to Opportunity per day using the NASA Deep Space Network.

NASA previously said that while it is optimistic regarding the rover, it’s possible Opportunity won’t be the same once it awakens…assuming communication can be restored at all. There are many unknowns involving the vehicle, which could potentially have suffered an issue during the storm that prevents it from resuming communication with its team on Earth.

Even if communication is restored, NASA said it is possible the batteries have a permanently reduced capacity, which may cause problems with providing enough energy to complete missions or keep the vehicle adequately warm. Though it will keep an eye out for many months in case communication takes place, NASA is officially giving the rover 45 days to respond before it assumes a mission-ending issue took place.


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