NASA has confirmed that it has stopped sending commands to all of its spacecraft and rovers on the surface of Mars until the middle of October. The reason it’s not sending commands to the Mars fleet is because Mars and Earth are currently on opposite sides of the sun, known as the Mars solar conjunction. This phenomenon happens every two years, and despite being unable to send commands, the missions operating on the Red Planet will continue to gather data during this period.
During the solar conjunction, ionized gas from the sun’s corona can interfere with radio signals if communication is attempted with spacecraft around Mars. The fear is that if the iodized gas interrupts the commands being sent to the spacecraft, it could corrupt commands and cause unexpected behavior in the spacecraft orbiting and rovers operating on the planet’s surface. NASA has sent the spacecraft on Mars a list of commands they will carry out over the next few weeks.
Most missions stop receiving commands between October 2 and October 16, something known as a commanding moratorium. Depending on spacecraft, the beginning and end dates for the command moratorium can vary a few days in either direction. Perseverance will continue to take weather measurements with its Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer sensors and search the Martian horizon for dust devils, among other tasks.
Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will remain stationary during the command moratorium at a location 575 feet away from Perseverance. It will send a status update to Perseverance weekly. Curiosity rover will continue to observe Martian weather using its Rover Environmental Monitoring Station and monitor radiation with its Radiation Assessment Detector, and other sensors will remain active.
InSight will continue using its seismometer to track quakes on Mars. The three orbiters in space around Mars will continue to relay some science data back to Earth. Those orders will also continue to gather science data. NASA has said that there will be a pause in the stream of raw images coming from Perseverance, Curiosity, and InSight.