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Mars Opportunity rover is in danger of dying from a dust storm (engadget.com)
73 points by rbanffy 35 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 35 comments



This thing is nothing short of marvellous. It survived the harsh Martian environment for 15 years with an expected mission span of 90 days (!).

Whenever Opportunity takes its last Ampere, it will do so after accomplishing several magnitudes more than it was designed for.

Would not wonder one bit if this tank of a rover keeps going another couple of years.


Certainly an engineering marvel. However I feel like the 90 day initial "goal" was to ensure to set the bar low so the mission could be declared a success.


It's an over-engineering marvel. The 90 day goal was probably to keep congress from losing their shit and shutting down NASA if it only lasted 91 days due to a freak accident.


Elon's gotta send a repair bot next time, not his car.


> The rover has proved hardier than expected by lasting nearly 15 years, despite being designed for a 90-day mission.

It'll be fine :D


Relevant XKCD: https://xkcd.com/1504/


V'ger ain't got nothin' on O'tunity


Another Relevant XKCD: https://xkcd.com/695/


Past performance does not guarantee future results.


No, but hints that the longevity is not just luck, but an exceedingly sturdy rover.


It's twin, Spirit, died almost 10 years ago. It might still be alive too if it hadn't been trapped in the sand.. or it might not. Clearly we need to send more rovers to get more data points for statistical analysis.


Every day is a data point but I agree we need more rovers.


I wonder if the rotary abrasion tool could be used to do double duty by putting the arm in the right position and spinning the tool at the right speed for harmonics to shake the panels enough to clear them off (provided the rover is on an incline).


I wonder if a satellite that would collect and beam down solar energy using microwaves would help future rovers eventually. Maybe NASA wouldn't do that in fear of the beam damaging something they want to study.


There's not much atmosphere on Mars (approx. 0.6% of Earth's) to get in the way of the sun, so there's not much advantage to beaming down solar energy. You might as well just have solar panels on the rovers themselves, which unsurprisingly is exactly what NASA did.


But solar panels in space can be much larger and dust free.


Wouldn’t they have to beam that energy down to a dust-free sensor?


I believe (correct me if I'm wrong) that a microwave receiver is less sensitive to dust than solar panels. Also, if you've got a large solar array in space sending a focused beam of energy to a rover, the receiver can be hit with much more power than a same sized solar panel, which can more than offset any losses from dust on the receiver.


I've always wondered, if these rovers' biggest problem is the dust, why do they not try to add a fan to blow it away. I know that the martian atmosphere is sparse, but it could still work.


A shaker was also proposed, but for a 90-day spec they just left the panels as they were. Both would have added mass, and non-mission mass is the Devil.

For human installations, "astronaut with a broom" ticks all the necessary boxes.


> For human installations, "astronaut with a broom" ticks all the necessary boxes.

First chore of the day for the future children of Martian farmers.


As it turns out, the Mars wind blows the dust away every now and then.


Fan would use power.


It's also a mostly obsolete problem now as current rovers use RTGs instead.


RTGs are controversial[0] and there is still a slow production of Pu-238 to power them in the US[1]. Plus, Mars is close to the Sun and has access to plenty of solar power, compared to other targets (any mission beyond Jupiter). The Juno spacecraft used newer, more advanced solar panels, which allowed it to be solar-powered in the orbit of Jupiter[2], and pretty much the same could be done with a martian rover[3].

I wouldn't say solar power is obsolete for Mars rovers/landers. As hit has been said before, this isn't a mission which is failing due to bad solar panel technology, this is an aging rover met with extremely harsh conditions after working 15+ years longer than it was supposed to. Not only has its panels weared down, the batteries too. If it's lost in this duststorm, it's going to be sad, but not evidence that solar power is a no-go for martian exploration.

[0] see all the "what if it explodes at launch" stories from MSL/Curiosity like https://www.livescience.com/33609-curiosity-launch-plutonium... -- Cassini went through pretty much the same before launch

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_ge...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juno_(spacecraft)#Solar_panels

[3] Mars 2020 didn't pursue this because they were trying to reuse as much R&D as possible from MSL/Curiosity, so it stands to reason they'd use the same power source (or an updated version of). Edit: the RTG for M2020 is a spare part from MSL -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_2020#Design


For technical reasons deep space missions usually run on Plutonium 238 RTGs. Pu-238 is scarce: "In 1992, the US arranged to buy 30 kg of Pu-238 from Russia for US$6M ($200K/kg). Even counting the effects of inflation, this was a real bargain, although in the end only about 20 kg was delivered." (Source: https://newatlas.com/nasa-cancels-advanced-sterling-radioiso...). More recent proposals to restart US Pu-238 production using a dedicated reactor suggest a probable price of $10-15M/Kg, meaning that a single RTG for one deep space mission will require on the order of $100M of fuel and soak up 4-8 years national production.

A further ramp-up of Pu-238 manufacturing is not inconceivable, but with PV cells that can operate usefully in Jupiter orbit, we only need Pu-238 for outer planet missions and some specialized purposes (e.g. a Mercury lander that spends a lot of time in complete darkness, or a truck-sized Mars rover).


It's too bad that France's fast breeder reactors were shut down due to political pressure. They made Pu-238, among other isotopes.


Could it last long enough to be picked up by Martian astronauts?


Well if we reach Mars in the next <100 years it surely won't be gone. If we can reach it while it's still operating that would be astonishing though.


It'll physically be there, it's not going off-planet any time soon, but it could get blown into a deep crevice, never to be seen again. Time will tell.


Not if Congress decides on Mars astronauts.


Hopefully a more capable nation beats us (US) to Mars, while me continue to figure out how to get back to the moon to relive the glorious 1960s.


Mars is for exploration, the moon is for commercialization and heavy industries.


No armor ... no chocolate ;-)

Afaik lot of people told the NASA and ESA to build Armored robot ... Do you go in slip at works ?


what




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