Curiosity rover shares new selfie from the surface of Mars

Olive Hawkins
February 1, 2019

These new efforts to contact the 15-year-old rover will go on for several weeks and will address three possibilities, according to an update from the space agency, namely that Opportunity is experiencing problems with its radios or internal clock.

The rover's team is ready to explore elsewhere, and so the Vera Rubin Ridge project has ended and a new one in the Mount Sharp region is in the pipeline. The troubles of the rover, which has long outlived its initial 3-month mission, are believed to have been caused by a huge sandstorm that battered the planet for almost two months during the summer.

"The potential remedies being beamed up to address these unlikely events include a command for the rover to switch to its backup X-band radio and commands directed to reset the clock and respond via UHF [ultra high frequency]", the laboratory said, noting, however, that "a series of unlikely events" need to have occurred for any of these to be the case. In the last months a technique called sweep and beep was used in order to attempt to contact the rover. The rover entered a low-power default state akin to hibernation when its solar panels became shrouded in darkness, and it's thought the dust storm may have caked the hardware in debris, making it hard for it to fill its batteries once more.

NASA/JPL/Cornell University, Maas Digital LLC [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsNASA's Opportunity rover marked its fifteenth anniversary on the Red Planet just a few days ago.

"Over the past seven months we have attempted to contact Opportunity over 600 times", said Callas. NASA has decided that this will be the last attempt as the winter season is beginning on Mars.

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Engineers could attempt a recovery, NASA said, if the "sweep and beep" or the new transmission strategies generate a response.

That could be a unsafe time for Opportunity because extremely low temperatures can cause irreversible damage to the rover's batteries, wiring and computer systems. However, if the rover still doesn't manage to respond, the project team would need to consult with the Mars Program Office at JPL in order to decide on the next plan.

The Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August 2012 and has more than 12 miles on its odometer.

Opportunity and its twin craft, Spirit landed on Mars on January 24, 2004. Both rovers were designed for 90-day missions.

There, NASA scientists hope to study what they believe are ancient lake beds that existed back when Mars had water on its surface.

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