US space agency NASA is planning to start its effort to restore communication with the Mars rover Opportunity.
In a recent statement, NASA said it would begin a 45-day campaign of active efforts to restore communications with Opportunity once skies above the rover cleared to a sufficient level.
The rover has been out of contact since early June, when a major dust storm deprived the rover of solar power and the storm is fading.
“The dust haze produced by the Martian global dust storm of 2018 is one of the most extensive on record, but all indications are it is finally coming to a close.”
NASA’S MARS ROVER:
Opportunity, also known as MER-B (Mars Exploration Rover – B) or MER-1, is a robotic rover active on Mars since 2004.
Launched on July 7, 2003 as part of NASA‘s Mars Exploration Rover program, it landed in Meridiani Planum on January 25, 2004, three weeks after its twin Spirit (MER-A) touched down on the other side of the planet.With a planned 90 sol duration of activity (slightly more than 90 earth days), Spirit functioned until getting stuck in 2009 and ceased communications in 2010,
while Opportunity remains active as of September 1, 2018 or 5535 sols since landing, having exceeded its operating plan by 14 years, 128 days (in Earth time).
Opportunity has continued to move, make scientific observations, and report back to Earth for over 55 times its designed lifespan.
As of January 23, 2018, the rover had traveled 45.09 kilometers (28.02 miles).
Mission highlights include the initial 90 sol mission, finding extramartian meteorites such as Heat Shield Rock (Meridiani Planum meteorite), and over two years studying Victoria crater.
The rover survived dust-storms and in 2011 reached Endeavour crater, which has been described as a “second landing site“.
In early June, the large global-scale dust storms hit and within a few days the rover was not getting enough power to maintain communications, with last normal communication on June 10, 2018. NASA stated they do not expect to resume communication until after the global dust storm subsides.
Due to the 2018 dust storms on Mars, Opportunity is thought to have entered hibernation on June 12, 2018.
Objectives of NASA’S MARS MISSION
The scientific objectives of the Mars Exploration Rover mission are to:
- Search for and characterize a variety of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity. In particular, samples sought will include those that have minerals deposited by water-related processes such as precipitation, evaporation, sedimentary cementation or hydrothermal activity.
- Determine the distribution and composition of minerals, rocks, and soils surrounding the landing sites.
- Determine what geologic processes have shaped the local terrain and influenced the chemistry. Such processes could include water or wind erosion, sedimentation, hydrothermal mechanisms, volcanism, and cratering.
- Perform calibration and validation of surface observations made by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter instruments. This will help determine the accuracy and effectiveness of various instruments that survey Martian geology from orbit.
- Search for iron-containing minerals, identify and quantify relative amounts of specific mineral types that contain water or were formed in water, such as iron-bearing carbonates.
- Characterize the mineralogy and textures of rocks and soils and determine the processes that created them.
- Search for geological clues to the environmental conditions that existed when liquid water was present.
- Assess whether those environments were conducive to life.
During the next two decades, NASA will continue to conduct missions to address whether life ever arose on Mars. The search begins with determining whether the Martian environment was ever suitable for life. Life, as we understand it, requires water, so the history of water on Mars is critical to finding out if the Martian environment was ever conducive to life.
Although the Mars Exploration Rovers do not have the ability to detect life directly, they are offering very important information on the habitability of the environment in the planet’s history.