A counterintuitive plan to clear dust from the solar panels of NASA’s InSight lander has been successful resulting in a 2% power boost.
NASA’s InSight lander touched down on the surface of Mars on November 26, 2018, with a mission to study the planet’s seismic activity. After completing its two-year primary mission, NASA approved a two-year extension pushing the lander’s capabilities to the limits.
Over more than two years of operation on the surface of the Red Planet, InSight’s two circular solar panels have become increasingly covered in Martian dust. To combat this, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been devising novel solutions to the problem. In May, one of the team’s more outlandish solutions proved to be successful.
The solution proposed using the lander’s robotic digging arm to drop a shovel full of Martian dirt near the lander’s solar panels during the windiest time of the day. The wind would then blow the dirt across the surface of the solar panels picking up and clearing the fine dust covering the panels.
An attempt of this counterintuitive approach was conducted on May 22, the 884th sol of the mission. Immediately following the operation, NASA observed a 30-watt power boost, a gain of approximately 2%.
The team’s success could not have come at a better time. Mars is approaching aphelion, its farthest point from the Sun. During this period, noticeably less sunlight will reach the lander’s solar panels forcing operators to power down InSight’s science instruments to ensure core systems have sufficient power.
With the recent bump in power, NASA was able to push out the deadline to power down by “a few weeks.” This will enable the team to gain valuable science data that they would otherwise not have been able to.