Unfortunately, a global dust storm earlier this year may have sealed Opportunity rover’s fate. The space agency has been attempting to restore communications with the Mars rover for weeks, but so far the machine has not responded. Opportunity entered a hibernation-like state this past summer after being unable to recharge its batteries; all has been silent since, but NASA hopes a windy season will change that.
In late August, NASA reported that the Mars global dust storm was abating and that Opportunity would soon have enough sunlight to recharge its batteries. That would — if it happened — wake the rover back up and start a process that included resuming communication with Earth and, eventually, with the rover’s various missions.
Unfortunately, NASA said on September 11 that it still hadn’t heard back from Opportunity despite measurements showing adequate sunlight levels. The rover’s team increased the frequency of commands sent to the rover while NASA explained that any number of things could have happened. Even if Opportunity does awaken, the space agency had explained, it’s possible there has been a permanent reduction in its battery capacity that’ll cut its life short.
In mid-October, NASA said that a full month of increased command frequency hadn’t resulted in a response from Opportunity. The space agency advised the public that dust may be to blame — if a thick enough layer of dust is covering the solar panels, the rover won’t be able to recharge.
Fortunately, Mars is about to enter a windy period known as “dust-clearing season,” and it’ll hopefully blow the solar panels clean…if that’s indeed the issue.
NASA had said earlier this month that it didn’t have a deadline for Opportunity rover efforts, but that it would know its plan of action by the end of the month. Today is that day, with NASA stating that it will reassess the Opportunity rover situation in January 2019. This will give Mars’ winds enough time to clear dust off the rover, hopefully restoring it to life.