Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California are hopeful they can revive the Opportunity rover. JPL lost contact with the rover on the surface of Mars after a massive dust storm engulfed it in June.
The Opportunity rover has been operating for nearly 15 years on the surface of the Red Planet. In early June, a dust storm measuring around 35 million square kilometres (14 million square miles) engulfed the rover. As the rover’s main power source is solar-power-fed batteries, the rover would have been left inoperable as the dust storm blocked out the sun. As a result, in preparation for the storm, Opportunity was put into a low-power-consumption safe mode.
Over two months after the global dust storm first engulfed the Red Planet, scientists at JPL believes that the storm is starting to subside. Although engineers are hopeful that once the dust settles Opportunity will be able to charge its batteries and reconnect with Earth, until that happens, no one can be sure.
In preparation for a possible signal from Opportunity, engineers are utilising NASA’s Deep Space Network to ping the rover several times a week during scheduled “wake-up” times. In addition to this, the radio science group at JPL are making use of DSN antennas to record any radio signal originating from Mars. The group then reviews the recordings searching for any signal that may have been made by Opportunity.
Once engineers hear from the rover, it could be several days or even weeks before receiving a second signal. The delay is due to the rover gradually running through its systems to ensure nothing has been damaged before reporting its status. The process is akin to a patient waking from a comma.
Even if the rover does eventually regain power, engineers are concerned that it could have suffered a clock fault, lower-power fault, or even an uploss fault. If any of these faults have occurred, it is unlikely Opportunity will be able to continue its mission on the Red Planet.