The power accessible to NASA’s InSight Mars lander decreases by the day; the spacecraft’s team has thus amended the mission’s timeline to maximize the science experiments they can perform. The lander was cast to automatically shut down the seismometer, which was InSight’s last operational science instrument, by June to preserve energy, living on what power its dust-laden solar panels could produce until December.
Instead, the team presently plans to program the lander so that the seismometer can operate longer, possibly until the end of August or into early September. Performing so will discharge the lander’s batteries faster and cause the spacecraft to run out of energy at that time, but it might facilitate the seismometer to observe additional marsquakes.
“InSight hasn’t finished teaching us about Mars yet,” announced Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington. “We’re going to get every last bit of science we can before the lander concludes operations.”
All devices but the seismometer have already been powered down. Like other Mars spacecraft, InSight also has a fault protection system that automatically triggers “safe mode” in alarming situations and shuts down all but its most essential functions, enabling engineers to assess the situation. Low power and temperatures that wander outside predetermined limits can too activate the safe mode.
“The goal is to get scientific data all the way to the point where InSight can’t operate at all, rather than conserve energy and operate the lander with no science benefit,” said Chuck Scott, InSight’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.