Dust-covered solar panels force NASA to end Mars InSight lander mission

Shawn Knight

Posts: 14,141   +154
Staff member
The big picture: InSight's dual solar panels, each measuring about seven feet wide, provide the requisite power for the lander. Unfortunately, the panels have accumulated enough dust to severely impact efficiency. When InSight first landed, its panels were able to generate about 5,000 watt-hours each Martian day. The dust-covered panels are now only able to produce roughly 500 watt-hours per sol.

NASA's InSight lander is on pace to end science operations this summer and become fully inoperable by December.

InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on May 5, 2018, and touched down on the Red Planet less than nine months later.

The lander was designed to detect seismic activity on the rocky planet. To date, InSight has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes – the most recent being a magnitude 5 quake that occurred on May 4.

Dust on the solar panels eventually became a serious problem. NASA even used the lander's robotic arm in an innovative way to remove dust from the panels, allowing it to operate longer than it would have been able to otherwise. Upcoming seasonal changes will put additional dust in the air, effectively reducing sunlight even more. Without a more powerful dust-cleaning event like a passing whirlwind, InSight will soon run out of juice.

"InSight has transformed our understanding of the interiors of rocky planets and set the stage for future missions," said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division.

Specifically, the data has allowed scientists to measure the depth and composition of the planet's crust, mantle and core. Learnings can be applied to Earth, the Moon, Venus and other rocky planets in our solar system, Glaze added.

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QuantumPhysics

Posts: 6,308   +7,247
I never would have expected a planet like Mars to have so much rust, dust and sand to cover the panels. Apparently, the multibillion dollar minds at Nasa didn't either.
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 8,765   +7,679
Seems NASA has dealt with this problem before, yet they haven't devised a workable solution ....
 

Setnom

Posts: 16   +27
Amazing nobody though about a brush or blower to clean solar panel, even when they knew about sand storms

They have thought about it multiple times and found it would require extra mass, energy, vibrations and mechanical complexity, thus taking away from the scientific instruments.

And it wouldn't be that efficient given the characteristics of the martian dust (they are very small, kinda sticky and abrasive; excessive "scraping" would damage the solar cells).

Probably the most efficient method would be cleaning them with water, but you would have to carry water to the Red Planet and keeping it liquid. Aand this, of course, involves more weight, more mechanical parts, more energy...

Maybe in the future they can develop a more efficient method, but so far it has more cons than pros.
 

defaultluser

Posts: 412   +333
I never would have expected a planet like Mars to have so much rust, dust and sand to cover the panels. Apparently, the multibillion dollar minds at Nasa didn't either.


it's not normal dust, it's "fines" that get everywhere, and are hard to remove . It's pretty abrasive, which means using a cloth would likely scratch the surface

But this recent research could be the trick:

https://electrek.co/2022/03/14/scie...dust-off-of-solar-panels-without-using-water/
 
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mbrowne5061

Posts: 2,014   +1,205
They have thought about it multiple times and found it would require extra mass, energy, vibrations and mechanical complexity, thus taking away from the scientific instruments.

And it wouldn't be that efficient given the characteristics of the martian dust (they are very small, kinda sticky and abrasive; excessive "scraping" would damage the solar cells).

Probably the most efficient method would be cleaning them with water, but you would have to carry water to the Red Planet and keeping it liquid. Aand this, of course, involves more weight, more mechanical parts, more energy...

Maybe in the future they can develop a more efficient method, but so far it has more cons than pros.
I wonder if you could rig a way to 'vibrate' the panels at an ultrasonic frequency, to shake the fines loose without scratching the panels themselves. Or run such a system continuously, to delay the build-up all together.
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 7,705   +6,651
it's not normal dust, it's "fines" that get everywhere, and are hard to remove . It's pretty abrasive, which means using a cloth would likely scratch the surface

But this recent research could be the trick:

https://electrek.co/2022/03/14/scie...dust-off-of-solar-panels-without-using-water/
Seems like a possible solution if the Martian atmosphere is humid enough. Maybe NASA will test it out on one of their upcoming Mars missions.
I wonder if you could rig a way to 'vibrate' the panels at an ultrasonic frequency, to shake the fines loose without scratching the panels themselves. Or run such a system continuously, to delay the build-up all together.
It seems like this might fall under that "complexity and cost" category that could prevent it being added to a Mars mission.
 

netman

Posts: 776   +336
"NASA even used the lander's robotic arm in an innovative way to remove dust from the panels, allowing it to operate longer than it would have been able to otherwise."____ Needs a water washer...? Oh well...On the next mission...!
 

Lew Zealand

Posts: 2,151   +2,603
TechSpot Elite
It seems like this might fall under that "complexity and cost" category that could prevent it being added to a Mars mission.

This is likely it. Extra complexity on a remote mission is a big risk, the JWST delays and cost speak to that.

The wheeled rovers were not expected to last as long as they did as dust accumulation on the solar panels was expected to do them in. However they kept getting hit by reasonable wind storms which cleared the panels off enough to keep trundling. Maybe they hoped for that here but this location is less affected by those kinds of wind.
 

Kam7r

Posts: 25   +43
I know it's nasa and I'm sure they already tho about it but maybe one or two little wind turbines could have been usefull ? I forgot if I heard there was high speed winds on Mars
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 7,705   +6,651
This is likely it. Extra complexity on a remote mission is a big risk, the JWST delays and cost speak to that.
Personally, I think the delays and costs have been worth it for JWST. So far, it has performed flawlessly, and will likely continue to do so. If that's what it takes to not launch space junk, so be it.
 

defaultluser

Posts: 412   +333
Is the MARS flying drone close enough to come over and fly low over it to blow some dust off?


it's having a similar problem, now that the winter is coming, it wont be mobile.


Assuming the electronics don't freeze over the winter, the panels on the coopter should get plenty of circulation. cleaning
 

defaultluser

Posts: 412   +333
Pretty short mission. Maybe they should have gone with nuclear power.
Well, spirit and opportunity both survived years on solar calls alone

sometimes you roll the dice and crap-out-but the rtg in curiosity doubled its cost! (which would mean a lot less rovers.)
 
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Mr Majestyk

Posts: 1,218   +1,113
Maybe ultrasonic mechanism to vibrate the panels or as other have suggested., A mission this expensive that takes so long to plan and launch and they skimped on something this basic. It's like forgetting windscreen wipers on a multi million dollar hypercar
 
D

Dd663

but the rtg in curiosity doubled its cost! (which would mean a lot less rovers.)
It may be more costly, but the return for the upfront investment is much greater reliability. Curiosity landed in 2012 and is still going.