NASA will stop directing its missions to Mars in the coming weeks, while Earth and the red planet lie on opposite sides of the sun. This period, called the Mars-solar conjunction, occurs every two years.
As detailed, by statement, the sun expels hot ionized gas from its ashes, which expands into space. During solar conjunction, when Earth and Mars can’t “see” each other, this gas can interfere with radio signals if engineers attempt to communicate with the Mars spacecraft.
This can mess with commands and lead to unexpected behavior from our deep space explorers.
To be on the safe side, agency engineers send the Mars spacecraft a list of simple commands to run for a few weeks.
As NASA made clear this year, most missions will stop sending commands between October 2 and 16. Some extend this stay, as it is called, a day or two in either direction, depending on the angular distance between Mars and the Sun in Earth’s sky.
The sun between Earth and Mars
Watch what some of these trips to Mars could look like during this time:
- Perseverance will take weather measurements with MEDA (short for Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer) sensors, look for dust swirls with its cameras (even though it doesn’t move its mast, or ‘head’), turn on RIMFAX (Radar Imager for Mars’ experiment under the surface) and capture New voices with their microphones.
- The Ingenuity Mars helicopter will remain stationary at 175m perseverance and will report its status weekly to the rover.
- Curiosity will take weather measurements with REMS (Rover Environmental Monitoring Station) sensors, perform radiation measurements with RAD (Radiation Assessment Detector) and DAN (Albedo Dynamic Neutrons) sensors, and search for eddies with its array of cameras.
- The stationary InSight probe will continue to use its seismometer to detect tremors such as the large earthquakes it captured recently.
- NASA’s three orbiters — Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MAVEN — will continue to transmit some data from the agency’s surface missions back to Earth, as well as their science collection.
A phenomenon caused by the sun weakens the work of NASA spacecraft on the Red Planet
As detailed by NASA, while a limited amount of scientific data will reach Earth during the coupling, the spacecraft will save most of it even after the moratorium.
This means that there will be a pause in the flow of raw images available in Perseverance, Curiosity, and Insight.
They will then send their remaining data to NASA’s Deep Space Network, a massive Earth-based radio antenna system operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Also, according to the information, engineers will spend about a week downloading the information before resuming normal operations of the spacecraft.
If teams monitoring these missions determine that any of the scientific data they have collected has been corrupted, they can usually transmit that data.
With Information for NASA
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