November 5, 2018: NASA Green-Lights Team to Continue Opportunity Recovery Plan into 2019: October came and went without a beep from Opportunity, silence that was still no surprise for some, but a little discouraging for other members of the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) team.
“We’re still waiting,” said MER Principal Investigator Steve Squyres, of Cornell University, summing up the month.
But as ghosts and goblins prepared to haunt the streets around the world, NASA Headquarters delivered good news. The MER team now has the green light to continue “for the foreseeable future” its two-pronged strategy of actively listening and commanding to find Opportunity’s signal and passively listening on the Deep Space Network’s (DSN’s) most sensitive radio receivers to try and make contact with the rover.
The announcement, which appeared on the MER mission’s home page October 29th, was the best “treat” the MER team could have hoped for Halloween, and it alleviates a huge amount of pressure. It means that the operations engineers will be able to continue searching for Opportunity through the dust-cleaning season when the Martian winds historically have cleaned the rover’s solar arrays.
“We know that the timeframe from November through January 2019 corresponds to an annual period of dust cleaning at the Opportunity site at Endeavour Crater,” said Squyres. “So active listening through January is a boost to our chances of hearing from the rover if the arrays are very dusty now.” (…)
The atmosphere and the sky above Opportunity have cleared to almost normal, hazy summer levels. Even so, the rover continues to take on dust. “When you’re outside of the dust-cleaning season on Mars, then dust accumulates on the rover,” said MER Project Manager John Callas, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), original home to all of NASA’s Mars spacecraft.
There is no way of knowing unequivocally, but MER atmospheric scientists and members of the Power team are pretty certain that Opportunity is laden with dust, perhaps more so than ever before, and that the rover seriously needs some dust cleaning, as reported in previous MER Updates. If that is the case, the solar-powered rover would not be getting enough sunlight to produce the energy she needs to recharge her batteries, wake up, and phone home.
“My feeling remains that it is likely a lot of dust was stirred up and fell locally,” said MER Athena Science team member and atmospheric scientist Mark Lemmon, of the Space Science Institute. “That is true for most of Mars. Curiosity was plastered with dust, and even vertical surfaces got dusty. It is especially true for Opportunity, at the epicenter of the storm.” [Much more at link]