NASA spacecraft Mars is heading for dusty demise.

The InSight lander is losing power due to dust its solar panels. NASA said Tuesday that it will continue to use the spacecraft’s seismometers to record earthquakes until power wears off, possibly in July. The flight controllers will then monitor InSight until the end of the year, then cancel everything.

“The team really hasn’t had much doom and gloom. We’re really still focused operating the spacecraft,” said Jet Propulsion Laboratory chief scientist Bruce Bennett.

Since landing Mars in 2018, InSight has detected more than 1,300 Martian earthquakes; the largest, a magnitude 5, occurred two weeks ago.

This will be the second time NASA’s Mars lander has been swamped with dust: the 2018 global dust storm robbed the opportunity. In InSight’s case, that’s a of dust that’s gradually gathering, especially over the past year.

NASA’s two other functioning spacecraft the Martian surface — Curiosity and Perseverance — are still going thanks to nuclear power. Planetary science director Lori Glaze said the space agency may reconsider solar power Mars in the future, or at least try new panel-cleaning techniques, or target seasons with fewer storms.

InSight currently produces one-tenth as much energy from the sun as it does when it arrives. The lander initially had enough power to run an electric oven for 1 hour and 40 minutes; now it’s down to 10 minutes at most, said project deputy manager Kecia Zamora Garcia.

The InSight team expected so much dust to build up, but hoped that a gust of wind or sandstorm might clear the solar panels. This has yet to happen, despite thousands of cyclones coming.

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“None of them hit us exactly, but enough to blow the dust off the panels,” Bennett told reporters.

Another scientific instrument, called a mole, is supposed to burrow 16 feet (5 meters) underground to measure Mars’ internal temperature. But due to the unexpected composition of the red mud, the German excavator never went deeper than a few feet (half a meter) and was finally pronounced dead early last year.


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