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29 Jan, 2019 03:34

NASA makes last-ditch attempt to contact Opportunity rover as it braces for Martian winter

NASA makes last-ditch attempt to contact Opportunity rover as it braces for Martian winter

NASA is trying to breathe life into its 15-year-old Opportunity rover that has been non-responsive since June. NASA will be sending new commands for the next several weeks until the severe Mars winter sets in, killing all hopes.

Humans have not heard from the Opportunity rover, the red planet’s longest-living robot, since June 10, 2018, when its last communication to date was received by the US space agency. The troubles of the rover, which has long outlived its initial 3-month mission, are believed to have been caused by a huge sandstorm that battered the planet for nearly two months during the summer.

Although the Mars rover had been caught up in dust storms before, and, luckily, survived, this particular storm was described by NASA as “one of the most intense” and apparently the most taxing on the golf-car-sized robot.

Also on rt.com NASA gives Opportunity rover a deadline to wake up, or be lost forever

In a statement on Friday, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said that its engineers have embarked on transmitting a new set of signals designed to wake up the dormant vehicle. The new commands will address “low-likelihood events” that might have been preventing the rover from sending signals back home.

One possibility is that its primary X-band radio has malfunctioned. Another is that both its primary and secondary X-band radios have failed. A third is that its internal clock is off.

“The potential remedies being beamed up to address these unlikely events include a command for the rover to switch to its backup X-band radio and commands directed to reset the clock and respond via UHF [ultra high frequency],” the laboratory said, noting, however, that “a series of unlikely events” need to have occurred for any of these to be the case.

The new approach to resuscitate the rover is being tested in addition to the ongoing effort to “sweep and beep” - commands that are being transmitted to the rover in hopes it responds with a “beep.” Previously, the scientists only listened to the rover.

"We have and will continue to use multiple techniques in our attempts to contact the rover," John Callas, project manager for Opportunity at the laboratory, said, as cited in the statement.

Despite all the effort, hopes that the rover will be brought back to life are dim and fading away with every day left until the brutal Mars winter takes over.

It was initially hoped that the rover would recharge its batteries during a “dust-clearing season” that kicked off after the storm and is now coming to an end. The winter coming next will be long – twice as long as its earthen counterpart – and quite harsh. The landing site for the Opportunity mission is in the southern hemisphere of Mars, and during southern winters Mars is also further away from the Sun, which means the season is colder than the northern winter.

READ MORE: Lost Opportunity?: NASA rover threatened by intense Martian dust storm

The harsh conditions “are likely to cause irreparable harm to an unpowered rover’s batteries, internal wiring and/or computer systems,” the laboratory stated. If the latest attempt to contact the rover falls flat, it would essentially mean that all possible means to reanimate the robot will be exhausted. The laboratory said that it would then again discuss the mission with the Mars Program Mission and NASA HQ to determine what to do next.

Back in September, NASA set a 45-day deadline before it would give up on the robot, which apparently, has been extended. Back then, NASA said that it would stop active attempts to reach out to the rover and would only listen to it.

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