NASA has published an update on its Opportunity rover, which fell silent after losing power during the ongoing Mars dust storm. The space agency reveals what may happen next, including what it would take to get the rover back in action. Though it remains optimistic, NASA also warns that Opportunity may not be the same after the dust clears, with potential issues including reduce battery capacity.
Opportunity rover fell silent on June 10 after a Mars dust storm blotted out the sun. The good news is that the storm is showing signs of slowing, meaning an end may be relatively near. As dust settles, sunlight will be available to the rover, which is equipped with solar panels for recharging. No one knows the rover’s condition at this time, however.
In a new report, NASA said, “No one will know how the rover is doing until it speaks.” The team is optimistic that Opportunity will recover from the storm, saying that data collected on the rover’s batteries before the storm indicates there probably hasn’t been much degradation to them. As well, the increased temperatures caused by the dust storm may have kept the rover warm enough.
Once Opportunity recharges enough to reestablish communication, NASA expects it to present three “fault modes,” which are actions performed when the rover is in trouble and needs to maintain its health. One is a low-power mode, which is likely what happened when communication stopped on June 10. Another is a clock fault mode, which involves the on-board clock, and an uploss fault, which is when the rover checks its communication hardware to try and talk with Earth.
Assuming NASA ever gets a response back from the rover, it anticipates issues that may impact its future operations. Namely, Opportunity’s batteries may have discharged enough to reduce their overall capacity permanently. In this case, the batteries may not be able to sustain all of the rover’s operations, and may “brown out” when high energy loads are needed for warmth.
NASA says it could be several weeks after the first communication before its team determines any issues present.