Decreasing power will end the NASA InSight lander’s Mars mission this summer


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Due to a decreasing power supply, the mission will cease scientific operations by the end of late summer, said Kathya Zamora Garcia, InSight deputy project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, during a press conference Tuesday.

InSight’s solar panels have been increasingly covered in red Martian dust, despite creative efforts by the mission’s team on Earth. This will only worsen as Mars now enters winter, when more dust is lofted into the atmosphere.

These floating particles reduce the sunlight necessary to charge the solar panels that power InSight, which is currently working on an extended mission that was expected to last through December.

A selfie captured by InSight shows a buildup of dust on its solar panels.

On May 7, the lander went into safe mode when its energy levels dropped, causing it to cease everything but essential functions. The team anticipates this could happen more in the future as dust levels increase.

The stationary lander is only able to collect about one tenth of the available power supply it had after landing on Mars in November 2018.

The lander’s robotic arm has been placed in “retirement pose.” By the end of the summer, the team will turn off the seismometer, end science operations and monitor what power levels remain on the lander. By the end of the year, the InSight mission will conclude.

InSight’s steady stream of data heading to scientists on Earth will stop when the solar cells can no longer generate enough power. But researchers will be studying the detections made by InSight for decades to come in order to learn as much as possible about our enigmatic planetary neighbor.

“The InSight mission has really just been an incredible mission for us,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, during the press conference. “And it’s given us a glimpse of Mars that we couldn’t get from any other spacecraft in our NASA Mars fleet. Interpretation of the InSight data have really furthered our understanding of how rocky planets form throughout the universe.”

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