Nasa warns its Mars lander could be dying after vicious dust storm

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NASA says its Mars InSight lander might be on its last legs after its latest face-off with a mighty dust storm.

Nasa’s InSight Mars lander was caught in yet another massive dust storm in January while on the red planet, causing it to enter 'safe mode.'

The Mars lander recovered from safe mode on January 17 and recently resumed normal activity on February 5.

However, the project's leader, Bruce Banerdt, still anticipates the lander's mission ending within the year due to InSight's declining power levels.

The drop in power levels is due to the significant accumulation of debris on the craft’s solar panels from dust storms, which have blocked a great deal of sunlight required to energize the lander.

That January dust storm specifically “expanded very rapidly" and did not provide "any early warning,” Banerdt said.

Still, even though the storm was “pretty dusty," but "not so dusty that it really threatened the spacecraft,” the mission is expected to end by December 2022.

“Our current projections indicate that the energy will drop below that required to operate the payload in the May/June time frame and probably below survivability some time near the end of the year,” the InSight investigator said in a Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group meeting, per SpaceNews.

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As it stands, InSight will inevitably lose power, however, Nasa has been trying to delay the lander's death by having it perform an exercise called saltation.

The procedure consists of the lander scooping up Mars dirt with its robotic arm and then dropping it over the solar panels so that the grains bounce off the array and remove some of the accumulated dust.

Banerdt said that while the exercise may “sound like a crazy thing to do,” it has worked and increased the lander's energy by one to three percent each time.

Banerdt also noted that while it's not completely out of the realm of possibility for the lander to survive past year's end, the team is not "betting our mortgage on it.”

“We don’t have a crystal ball, but our best estimate is that we probably won’t be getting very much science data past the summer,” he added.

In other news, Nasa has upgraded its asteroid hazard software with some key changes that should help it better detect potentially dangerous space rocks.

Nasa has revealed stunning footage of a solar flare in action.

And, the US space agency is planning for a 'golden asteroid' probing mission to launch this summer.

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