NASA's InSight lander has been operating on Mars for a good year and a half during its extended mission. However, the lander has been struggling for a considerable time with a reduction in available power, which is due to the increasing quantities of Martian dust covering its solar panels. This dust can only be removed by sufficiently strong Martian winds. However, despite detecting many passing whirlwinds, none have cleaned off the solar panels.
The available energy has had to be planned for and used very carefully during recent months. The overall focus has been particularly on the scientific measurements of the mission. The teams involved, led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Lockheed Martin, which operates the lander, have managed to keep this unique mission in operation until now. When InSight landed, its solar panels were producing approximately 5000 watt-hours per Martian day, or sol. Now, at 500 watt-hours per sol, they produce only about a tenth of this. And the Martian dust on the panels continues to increase while the Sun's elevation at the landing site decreases as winter sets in. read more