NASA's InSight rover conserves power as winter dust covers solar panels

NASA has announced that its InSight rover will be conserving power for the foreseeable future, the reason being Mars' winter season and the ample amount of dust that it has stirred up. As with other rovers on the Red Planet, InSight uses solar panels to harvest energy from the Sun — and those same solar panels are currently covered in dust, greatly reducing the amount of energy it can access.

NASA's InSight rover has been given a mission extension for another two years, meaning it will continue to collect data and explore Mars throughout 2022. Mars, however, is currently in its winter months, which means that it is near its furthest point from the Sun.

The rover's access to sunlight has dwindled as dust coats the solar panels, making it harder for the rover to get energy from the reduced ambient sunlight. At this point in time, NASA says InSight's huge solar panels are only able to produce around 27-percent of what they would if dust wasn't an issue.

Likewise, nearby dust devils haven't managed to blow the dust off the panels, forcing the space agency to take steps to conserve the rover's battery power. The rover requires a certain amount of power to keep its heaters going, which generate the warmth necessary to operate on the planet.

NASA JPL InSight project manager Chuck Scott said:

The amount of power available over the next few months will really be driven by the weather. As part of our extended-mission planning, we developed an operations strategy to keep InSight safe through the winter so that we can resume science operations as solar intensity increases.

Once Mars begins moving back toward the Sun, the amount of sunlight available to the rover will increase, resulting in more power. In the coming months, NASA will be able to turn more instruments back on and eventually resume normal operations.