NASA's InSight Mars lander to conduct science until it runs out of power

NASA's InSight Mars lander to conduct science until it runs out of power
NASA's InSight Mars Lander acquired this image using its robotic arm-mounted, Instrument Deployment Camera. NASA said Tuesday that InSight's seismometer will have enough power to operate another several weeks. File Photo courtesy of NASA | License Photo

June 22 (UPI) -- NASA's InSight Mars received a reprieve allowing it to conduct science for another several weeks before shutting down as it nears the end of its battery life.

The agency announced Tuesday that instead of automatically shutting down its last operational scientific instrument, the seismometer, at the end of June as planned, the device will continue operating until late August or early September.


Had it shut down the seismometer later this month, the InSight Mars lander would have been able to conserve energy and survive through til December. Running the seismometer longer, though, will cause the lander to discharge its batteries and run out of power when the seismometer dies.

Doing so allows the seismometer several more weeks to detect possible marsquakes, NASA said.

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"InSight hasn't finished teaching us about Mars yet," said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division in Washington, D.C. "We're going to get every last bit of science we can before the lander concludes operations."

In order to allow InSight's seismometer to run for as long as possible, NASA is shutting down the lander's fault protection system, which, if operating, allows ground controllers to react to sudden, unexpected events on Mars.


"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.

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NASA announced in May that it expected InSight to run out of power sometime this summer because dust had covered its solar panels. Scientists hoped the lander might be hit by a Martian dust devil, which could clear dust off the panels and possibly allow it to properly charge up.

Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator for the InSight mission and a principal scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the possibility of this happening isn't likely, but it's not entirely out of the question.

InSight touched down on Mars' surface in 2018 with the primary goal of studying seismology, weather, soil and the planet's magnetic field. Since the beginning of its mission, it has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes.

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Exploration of Mars through history

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used two different cameras to create this panoramic selfie, comprised of 60 images, in front of Mont Mercou, a rock outcrop that stands 20 feet tall on March 26, 2021, the 3,070th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. These were combined with 11 images taken by the Mastcam on the mast, or "head," of the rover on March 16. The hole visible to the left of the rover is where its robotic drill sampled a rock nicknamed "Nontron." The Curiosity team is nicknaming features in this part of Mars using names from the region around the village of Nontron in southwestern France. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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