NASA’s Mars missions face two-week blackout as the red planet is obscured by the sun

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NASA is set to suspend most of its robotic missions to Mars for safety reasons ahead of a two-week blackout caused by the position of the Red Planet in space.

The Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, as well as the Ingenuity helicopter and the InSight lander, will all lose connection with Earth starting October 2 when Mars moves behind the sun from our planet’s perspective.

This position in its orbit, called the solar conjunction, occurs every two years and can disrupt interplanetary communications and lead to “unexpected behavior of our deep space explorers”. NASA said in a statement.

The Perseverance (pictured) and Curiosity rovers, as well as the Ingenuity helicopter and InSight lander, will all lose connection to Earth between October 2 and 16.

Solar conjunction, when Mars moves behind the sun from Earth's perspective (pictured), occurs every two years and can disrupt interplanetary communications

Solar conjunction, when Mars moves behind the sun from Earth’s perspective (pictured), occurs every two years and can disrupt interplanetary communications

WHICH NASA MARS MISSIONS WILL BE AFFECTED BY THE BLACKOUT?

NASA plans to stop sending commands to most of its missions to Mars during a communication failure between October 2 and October 16.

Instead, the different robots will be given “homework” to do themselves.

The main missions involved are the Perseverance rover, which arrived on the Red Planet in February, and the Ingenuity helicopter that it took with it on its seven-month trip.

The Insight lander will also see its activity largely halted, although it will continue to use its seismometer to detect earthquakes.

Curiosity, a rover that has been on Mars since 2012, is a veteran of these solar conjunctions and has never reported any major issues.

It will take weather and radiation measurements and search for dust devils while communications are down.

NASA’s three orbiters – Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MAVEN – will all continue to relay some data from the agency’s surface missions to Earth, in addition to gathering their own science.

The sun expels hot, ionized gas from its warm outer atmosphere, or corona, and during solar conjunction – when Earth and Mars cannot “see” each other – this gas can interfere with radio signals if engineers attempt to communicate. with the spaceship on the Red Planet.

Other Martian missions from Europe, China and India will also be affected, but these space agencies have yet to reveal their plans for the conjunction period.

NASA has said it will stop sending commands and receiving raw images from most of its missions to Mars between October 2 and October 16, although the timing varies by a day or two in some cases.

Instead, the different robots will be responsible for doing their “homework” themselves while communications are interrupted.

Perseverance will take weather measurements, search for dust devils with its cameras, and capture new sounds with its microphones.

Its Twitter account yesterday revealed that the rover had “parked in a perfect spot between dunes and a rock outcrop, ready for a 2 week solar conjunction, when the Sun blocks signals to and from Mars ”.

“During the lull, I will tackle tasks that I can do on my own, like watching out for the dust devils and making time,” the tweet added.

Ingenuity will remain stationary at its location 575 feet (175 m) from Perseverance and communicate its status weekly to the rover.

It has had long flights in recent weeks, but these are currently on hold due to the normal seasonal thinning of the Martian atmosphere.

NASA has been trying to figure out how to fly safely under the new conditions, so Ingenuity may not move until the middle of next month at the earliest.

Perseverance's Twitter account yesterday revealed that the rover had

Perseverance’s Twitter account yesterday revealed that the rover had “parked in an ideal spot between dunes and a rock outcrop, ready for a 2-week solar conjunction.”

The Curiosity rover, which has worked on Mars since 2012 and has not encountered any major problems in several previous solar conjunctions, will take weather and radiation measurements and search for dust devils.

And the InSight stationary lander will continue to use its seismometer to detect tremors like the large earthquakes it recently captured, the U.S. space agency said.

NASA’s three orbiters – Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MAVEN – will all continue to relay some data from the agency’s surface missions to Earth, in addition to gathering their own science.

Ingenuity will remain stationary at its location 575 feet (175 m) from Perseverance and communicate its status weekly to the rover.  This image was taken on its tenth flight

Ingenuity will remain stationary at its location 575 feet (175 m) from Perseverance and communicate its status weekly to the rover. This image was taken on its tenth flight

The InSight stationary lander (pictured in this artist's print) will continue to use its seismometer to detect earthquakes, the US space agency said

The InSight stationary lander (pictured in this artist’s print) will continue to use its seismometer to detect earthquakes, the US space agency said

This Curiosity photo was taken by the rover in April, nine years after arriving on Mars

This Curiosity photo was taken by the rover in April, nine years after arriving on Mars

“Although our missions to Mars are not as active in the next few weeks, they will still let us know their state of health,” said Roy Gladden, head of the Mars Relay Network at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

“Each mission was given homework to do until they heard from us again. “

Once the solar conjunction is complete, scientists will spend about a week downloading the information gathered by the missions using NASA’s Deep Space Network, a massive earth-based radio antenna system.

“If the teams monitoring these missions determine that any of the scientific data collected has been corrupted, they can usually have that data retransmitted,” NASA said.

Normal spacecraft operations will resume once this data collection is complete.

Other Martian missions from Europe, China and India will also be affected, but these space agencies have yet to reveal their plans for the conjunction period.

Other Martian missions from Europe, China and India will also be affected, but these space agencies have yet to reveal their plans for the conjunction period.

Earlier this month, Perseverance collected its first rock sample from Mars, marking a historic first step in a mission to return the sample to Earth later this decade.

He then followed that up with a second sample a week later.

The rover is tasked with searching for traces of fossilized microbial life from Mars’ ancient past and collecting rock specimens to return them to Earth on future missions to the Red Planet.

He plans to take dozens of samples to be left on the surface of Mars for a European Space Agency rover to collect before 2030.

Perseverance touched the Jezero de Mars crater – believed to be home to a lush lake bed and river delta billions of years ago – on February 18 after a nearly seven-month journey through the ‘space.

He made the trip to Mars equipped with a detachable 4-pound (1.8 kilogram) robotic helicopter called Ingenuity.

The helicopter performed a series of flights of increasing complexity over the Red Planet, beginning with its maiden flight on April 19. He has now recorded a total of 13.

NASA MARCH 2020: PERSEVERANCE ROVER AND INGENUITY HELICOPTER SEARCH FOR LIFE ON THE RED PLANET

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission was launched to search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet in an effort to help scientists better understand how life evolved on Earth in the early years of the Solar System’s evolution .

Named Perseverance, the car-sized main rover explores an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater, which was once filled with a 1,600-foot-deep lake.

It is believed that the area was home to microbial life around 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago and the rover will examine soil samples for evidence of life.

NASA's Mars 2020 rover (artist's impression) searches for signs of ancient life on Mars in an effort to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover (artist’s impression) searches for signs of ancient life on Mars in an effort to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet

The $ 2.5 billion (£ 1.95 billion) Mars 2020 spacecraft launched on July 30 with the rover and helicopter inside – and landed successfully on February 18, 2021.

Perseverance has landed inside the crater and will slowly collect samples that will eventually be sent back to Earth for further analysis.

A second mission will fly to the planet and return the samples, possibly by the end of the 2020s in partnership with the European Space Agency.

This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the Red Planet via NASA's

This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the Red Planet via NASA’s “sky-crane” system


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