After two weeks without contact with the missions it has on Mars, NASA hopes to return to normal in the next few days:
It looks like the plot of a horror movie in Space. A few days ago, Mars entered what is often called “solar conjunction”; that is to say, at that moment in which the red planet is ‘hidden’ from us behind the Sun. It occurs approximately every two years and, for a few days, communications between the Earth and the gadgets that we have on the planet’s surface are interrupted. We’ve been in black for two weeks.
And the question is what we will find on the return. In addition to the disruption and delays it causes, NASA expects corrupted commands and unexpected behavior from the three orbiters, the two rovers, the lander, and the helicopter that are operational up there today. But examine this event in detail now that we have more and more things there It can tell us many things about what we can expect from future trips to the planet.
Isolated, but working
The blackout affects all agencies that have missions on Mars, but NASA is the one that has detailed its plan during these two weeks. And, to try to get the most out of it, he has programmed some tasks that the devices can do without the monitoring and control of the Earth.
- ‘Perseverance’ will carry out meteorological measurements with the MEDA (Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer) and will keep the RIMFAX (Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment) radar in operation. He will also continue to record sounds and videos of his surroundings as he has been doing since he arrived in February.
- An old friend, ‘Curiosity’, will also carry out meteorological missions and in addition to the photographs and climate data, he will continue the radiation measurements with the RAD (Radiation Assessment Detector) and the DAN (Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons).
- For its part, the InSight lander will continue to analyze the seismic life of the planet with its seismometer and the three orbiters (the Odyssey, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN)) will continue to collect their own data.
- The one that will do nothing will be the ‘Ingenuity’ helicopter. That is, it will report its status to Perseverance every week, of course, but it will not make new flights at the moment.
Two week planetary retreat
Although Mars hid behind the Sun on October 7, the communication cessation began five days earlier, on the 2nd. And it will remain that way until the 16th, although it seems that some instruments and devices could take two or three more days to recover. As I say, it is something relatively common. But the truth is that as we have more things on the neighboring planet, the problems derived from these biennial blackouts have been gaining weight. And they will earn more.
Especially if we are not able to build an autonomous infrastructure there on Mars. That’s maybe one of the great strategic debates of the exploration (and colonization) of the planet: the tension between the need to build there a technological node powerful enough to be autonomous from the Earth and the cost (social, economic and political) that this infrastructure has.
For now, the engineers of all the space agencies that have probes on Mars are waiting for learn about how this two-week silence affects our plans. That is not little.
Imagen | Juli Kosolapova