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Mars Exploration Rovers Update: NASA Green-Lights Team to continue the opportunity to recover the plan until 2019

A.J.S. Rayl • November 5, 2018 Sun 5221-5251 October came and went without a beep from Opportunity, silence that was…

A.J.S. Rayl • November 5, 2018

Sun 5221-5251

October came and went without a beep from Opportunity, silence that was no surprise to some, but a little deterrent to other members of Mars Exploration Rovers (MORE ) team.

“We’re Still Waiting,” says MORE Principal Investigator Steve Squyres, Cornell University, who sums up the month.

But as the ghosts and goblin were ready to haunt the streets around the world, NASA’s headquarters gave good news. The MER team now has the green light to continue “for the foreseeable future” its two-dimensional strategy to actively listen and order to find Opportunity’s signal and passive listening to Deep Space Networks (DSNs) most sensitive radio receiver to seek contact.

 Work in progress

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / ASU / J. Sorenson

Work in progress

This is the color tension Opportunity worked on right up to some solar or march days
Before the planet-encircling dust event (PEDE) stopped all science activities and caused
The robot field geologist turns off and enters a survival mode in June 2018. James
Sorenson treated this picture in the correct color. From the black sections it is clear that the rover was
still working on it. “I hope when or” if “the opportunity wakes that she could continue to finish it,”
said Sorenson. “She still has work to do!” There is a team of researchers and engineers and
MER supporters around the world all agreed.

The message, which appeared on the MER mission website on October 29th th was the best “treat” The MER team could have hoped for Halloween, and it relieves a great deal of pressure. This means that operator engineers can continue to search for Opportunity through the vacuum cleaner period when the martwindows have historically cleaned the robber’s solarray.

“We know that the time frame from November to January 2019 corresponds to an annual period of dust cleaning on the Opportunities website at Endeavor Crater.” So active listening in January is an increase in our chance to hear from the rover if the arrays are very dusty now. “

A monster storm – known as a planet-passing dust event (PEDE) – caused the opportunity to stop all work in Perseverance Valley, shut down and enter survival mode back in early June. Although officially declared in September, became PEDE’s secondary or decomposition phase, where all dust kicked high into the atmosphere settles down to the surface can still be long.

The atmosphere and the sky over Opportunity have been cleared to almost normal, foggy summer levels. take on dust. “When you’re out of Mars vacuuming season, dust collects on the rover,” says MER Project Manager John Callas, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), original home to the entire NASA spacecraft. [19659004] There is no way to know unambiguously, but MORE atmospheric scientists and members of the energy cooperation are quite sure that the possibility is loaded with dust, perhaps more than ever before, and that the rover seriously needs dust cleaning, as reported in previous MER Updates . If so, the solar powered rover would not get enough sunlight to produce the energy needed to charge the batteries, wake up and call home.

“My feeling remains that there is a likelihood that a lot of dust occurred and fell locally,” said MORE Athena Science member and atmospheric researcher Mark Lemmon, Space Science Institute. “It is true for most of Mars. Curiosity was plastered with dust, and even vertical surfaces became dusty. It is especially true for Opportunity, at the epicenter of the storm.”

Curiosity actually got a little dust cleaning sometime between September 14 19459018 and 19 October 1909 th over time it had an anomalistic memory problem that required the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team to move from one computer to another, MSL vice researcher Joy Crisp confirmed. “What curiosity saw was that very fine material – gray powder from the ground drilling trial and dark red loose regolith – blown away at the place where we tried to drill the Inverness goal,” she said. “We do not know when accurate clearing occurred during that time, because we had very few images acquired during roveranomali.”

 An omen for Oppy?

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Systems

An omen for Oppy?

Curiosity led an anomalistic memory question in mid September and Mars Science
Laboratory Team (MSL) did not see Rovers Workspace and the target, Inverness, for more than one
month. “And there were some surprises in place for us!” Melissa Rice, a partner at MER and
an MSL-participating researcher, wrote in the MSL blog. In the Mastcam pictures above, the mountain
was covered in gray-colored tailings, but when the team took another look on October 25th th voila!
Extracts and very dark brown soil and reddish dust were gone. “The wind has been
move, sweep the clean clean, “noted rice, by Western Washington University
the other side of Mars, possibility waiting for winds to clear their sunshine.

Although curiosity is on the other side of the planet, her happiness is a reminder that there is still summer and thus still dust storm and clean season on Mars’s southern hemisphere. And the rover’s pictures are proof that the Martens winds really kick up here and there.

Can there be an opinion that the winds are already kicking on Endeavor, and the vacuum will soon blow soon on Meridiani Planum, the Endeavor Crater and Opportunity region? Time and maybe the rover will tell you in the coming weeks.

Martenswindarna and the coming dust cleaning season were important elements of the MER team’s recommendation to government officials that they can continue to listen actively and passively to the rover they have been since early September.

During a telephone conference, MER’s mission chief Matt Keuneke, who joined Callas, was reviewing what the team had done so far and opsing engineers fall to continue their current strategy through January 2019. With Squyres, Deputy Chief Researcher Ray Arvidson and MER Deputy Project Researcher Abby Fraeman also in a row, Director of JPL Mars Exploration Directorate Fuk Li, and Head of Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters Jim Watzin listened and agreed.

A few days later, the team learned that it was granted NASA approval. “We are pleased that we will continue to make all reasonable efforts to restore contact with the opportunity,” Keuneke says.

Go forward to reach out and listen, as they have been encouraged to moral in a significant way. “It has really encouraged us,” said Spacecraft Systems Engineer / Flight Director Michael Staab, who for several months has worked on various aspects of the MER collection group’s recovery strategy. “I think there is a lot of dust on the arrays, and the rover has not been able to wake up and talk to us yet. We just have to wait for vacuuming and now we can do it,” he says. “19659004” We are obviously pleased to NASA wants us to do everything we can to try to recover this vehicle, “Allow Callas at the end of the month.” If we belong to the rover, it will be amazing. It will only be a phenomenal achievement and we will all be happy about it. Right now we have no data, “he added, tempering his words.” We only have speculation, and weigh on one’s trust. “

It is fair to say that everywhere everyone hoped that NASA-JPL would have heard the robber’s beep already, even those who believe Opportunity the sun’s arrays are thickly covered in powdery martens dust. “We were hoping to hear something and we have not heard anything at this time,” acknowledged Rich Zurek, chief researcher for the Mars program at JPL, who is also a project researcher for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). “But there are still some things to try and the damming period should begin soon.”

 Who Cries MORE, Mel Brooks Inspired

Angela George (left); Jim Summaria , both via the Creative Commons Wikimedia

Who cheers MORE, Mel Brooks inspired

Opportunity and MER team received some rockin support from The Who (right) and inspired
one and only Mel Brooks (left) in October. Brooks (left) is a filmmaker, actor, comedian and
composer extraordinaire whose film Spaceballs motivated MER ops engineers. The Who –
Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon and Pete Townshend are pictured here from a concert in
1975 in Chicago – started in 1964 in London and was played at Woodstock in 1969. But
The moon passed away in 1978, not long after MORE Update The author celebrated Who Are You at a
listening party with the band on the set Battlestar Galactica at Universal Studios and Entwistle
died in 2002, Daltrey and Townshend continue to keep The Who on the road.

At the same time, the whole world sees – even The Who, one of Rock’s most prominent and influential bands, and the outstanding, infinite movie actor actor Mel Brooks. When Staab made the team’s wake-up song for the sweeping and beeping upcoming activity on October 20th th – The Who’s classic, “I Can See For Miles” – the band responded two days later: “Wake up, Mars, Who’s Here! “

And as Staab, ready to go for active listening on October 24th th he was inspired by Brooks 1987 film Spaceballs and recoded” Sweep, Beep and Creep “just for fun on his Twitter account. Brooks responded quickly. He loved it.

The extra time NASA has granted does not mean that the MER mission’s team can kick back and relax, even though the holidays come. Until the robber’s phone at home, these team members will remain effective in a state of increased alertness and readiness they call DUSTCON 1, a term that they adapted from the US military’s DEFCON system with five graduated levels of defense preparedness.

“DUSTCON 1 is not an official term,” stressed MER Power Lead Jennifer Herman, of JPL. “It’s just something some of us on the team made up for fun and inspiration, to remind us to be ready,” she said. “We have not heard from our spacecraft, so our tactical readiness is still high alert. When we hear Opportunity and return to nominal operations, we can lower it.”

The robbery and mission fate can all be up to Mars. For the team, it is about continuing the preparation, keeping faith and believing in opportunities just as they have done in the beginning. But team members lack Opportunity, the world’s longest live robot on Mars. “It’s pretty much a bummer,” says MORE Project Scientist Matt Golombek. “It has been a horrible long time, and the rover is part of our family.”

Everyone agrees to hear that pip from Mars and get Opportunity back online and roving again would be a triumph like no one else and they are doing everything in their power to make it happen. “We do not want to throw our hands and go:” Oh, that was the dust storm we tried, “says Herman, reflecting feelings from other team members as well as accomplices around the world.” No. . her back! “

 DUSTCON 1

JPL-Caltech, B. Barker

DUSTCON 1

When MER Power Team Leader Jennifer Herman suggested that the team had a standby
grade scale as the US military DEFCON, JPL Operation Engineer Brian Barker received
creative and designed a graphic that appeared in Herman’s work area the next day. “DUSTCON
1 is not an official term, “noted MER Power Lead Jennifer Herman, from JPL.” It’s just
something that some of us on the action team made for fun and inspiration, to remind
ourselves to be ready, “she said. Our tactical readiness is high alert.”

It has been almost five months since the MER team last heard from Opportunity and the telemetry she returned was jerky. In the downlink, received by the team on June 10, 2018, the robber revealed that she only produced a surprisingly low 22 watt-hour energy, and the atmospheric opacity was 10.8, the highest level of surface area that Mars has ever recorded. But there was not enough telemetry to determine the amount of dust on the sun sets with the information on June 10th th downlink, Herman said.

This PEDE proved to be the worst global storm on Mars since 2001, according to Bruce Cantor of Malin Space Science Systems, which since then has observed Morardian dust storms. The massive event finally entered its demolition phase at the end of August and ended in September, as reported in the latest issue of MER Update .

During the decay phase of these PEDEs, all dust raised high into the martens atmosphere comes back down and sits over the surface of the planet. By the end of September the skies had been significant, but not entirely. Tau, what the team calls the measurement of dust in the atmosphere, bounced around the 1.1-1.3 range, and maybe a bit higher in October, according to Cantor, using Mars Color Imager (MARCI) images aboard the MRO with models to make estimates. Although the clouds are still foggy, these measurements are “typical for stormless conditions” during the late spring and summers of the red planet, “he said.

 Opportunity's long and winding path

NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS / UA / extension L. Crumpler (left) / P. Stooke (right)

Opportunity long and winding road

The gold line in the picture on the left shows Opportunity’s way from Eagle Crater
landing point to Cape Tribulation, which lies north of its present place in endurance
Valley. The basic image for the map is a mosaic of images taken by context camera
aboard the MRO. Larry Crumpler, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and
Science, gave way. The right graphics show the rover’s movements up to Sol 5100
(May 29, 2018) and her approximate current location. Phil Stooke, author of The
International Atlas of Mars Exploration Volumes 1 and 2
(Cambridge University Press),
by the University of Western Ontario, Canada, documented this graphic with sun and website
annotations. The bass image was taken by the HiRISE camera even on board the MRO.

October turned out to be a lot like September for MER in terms of active sweep and pipes, listening and commanding to try to find the Opportunity signal and get the rover to react and passive listen over the global range of Deep Space Network (DSNs) by transmitters and recipients around the earth, explained in detail in the latest issue of MER Update .

The technicians continued throughout the month to experiment with searching more of DSN space and at different frequencies during the multiple scrambles that engineers do during their DSN time every day. “We only have an uptime session that is allocated per day, because DSN is in high demand,” says Staab. “But when we do the scramble, we’ll send multiple commands in a single session.”

They tried something new but in October, only if there is a possibility that engineers and opportunities may not communicate in the same wave configuration.

“There are two modes of signals, called the Left Circular Polarization (LCP) and the Right Circular Polarization (RCP),” said Zurek. On the right circular polarization, the vector rotates in right respects with respect to signal propagation and left circular polarization, in which the vector rotates in the left angry. “Normally we use the right circular polarization, because that’s what all spacecraft uses to command, and DSN sets it up routinely.”

However, there are some scenarios and scenes where Opportunity may have tried to call home on the right circular polarization and for some reason, the engineers on earth heard it so that the rover switched to the left circulation polarization of the wave and then began to switch back and forth between the two .

 JPL Space Ops Mission Control

NASA / RadioFan / Creative Commons Wikimedia

JPL Space Ops Mission Control

This picture shows a panoramic view of the Space Flight Operations Center at Jet
Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. It’s here missionaries and
researchers communicate and monitor their mission spacecraft via NASA’s Deep
Space Network (DSN). DSN is just an international network of antennas that provide
communication links between the Mission Team on Earth and Spacecraft and
robbers on Mars. The network consists of three deep-space communication systems
Located approximately 120 degrees from all over the world: in Goldstone, California
Mojave Desert; near Madrid, Spain; and close to Canberra, Australia, a strategic location
which enables constant observation of spacecraft as the earth rotates on its own axis.

Therefore, engineers switch to LCP for sweeping and piping to try to see if they can generate a response from the rover. “If the possibility is on the opposite polarization, maybe that’s why we did not hear it,” said Staab.

Engineers must stay on a polarization during the sweep and pipes, so they have to plan what traces they will command on LCP, and which one will command RCP, summarized Staab. [19659004] On Sunday, 21 October with DSN receiver and transmitter, the team was reconfigured from RCP to LCP for its sweep and beep, Staab said, during the process, in his role as a flight engineer working with the engineers known as aces as monitors and communicates with spacecraft over DSN from JPL. “I have a track sheet sheet about when we have sent commands and most of our attempts are within the sweet spot of the window where we think the rover may be awake and so far we’re doing pretty well with the coverage. But again it’s probably a bit too early to wake up because of the amount of dust on the sun sets, he says.

According to Staab, the possibility can only be awake “about an hour” every day. “It’s optimistic if we seriously are not dirty” he said.

The reality poses the odds of catching that window, the hour at which they can get a command in the rover about 10%, Staab appreciated. “So the odds are very stacked against us right now in the current situation we are in. “he said.” If we get cleaning, the odds are increasing dramatically, “he said.

But it may be that the opportunity has not been able to wake up and stay up for a long time to get commands.” Maybe it’s only possible food wakes for two minutes and then shut down, and it’s not enough time to get a command on it, “said Staab. “Right now we may not even have any time to get a command in the rover. But that’s what we expect right now. All the dust that goes up comes down and it will fall on the rover. the fact that we have not heard anything but suggests me. The possibility is very dirty. “

 Listen to possibilities

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Listen to opportunity

In late October 2018, NASA’s headquarters MER team gave a green light “for
foreseeable future “to continue its strategic strategy with both active and passive blow
listening to finding Opportunity’s signal. “It really encouraged us,” said Spacecraft
Systems Engineer / Flight Director Michael Staab, who has been working for several months
different aspects of the mission’s recovery strategy.

One thing the team is sure about now is that the rover has tripped three errors: a low-error error; an error in the resolution timer and a mission error. “The mission watch has long gone, so the rover does not know what time it is and it can wake up in unusual times because of how the algorithm works,” Golombek says.

JPL Radio Science Team engineers and MER mission managers and / or air traffic controllers should be able to pick up the Opportunity signal through the passive listening effort during the daylight on Mars. They watch out for the robber’s signal over a large number of times and frequencies recorded by DSN’s receiver, the most sensitive radio receivers in the world. “We listen passively to almost all DSN tracks going to Mars, and we would see rover if it tried to say” Hello, “even though we did not listen actively,” Golombek praised.

While the power models suggest that there should be enough energy to temporarily wake up, all assumptions about the extreme dusty state of the robber suggest that she needs a good windstop to clear one of the accumulated dust from her sunshine before she can call home or respond to sweep and beep. For MER researchers, October was a repeat of September. “We got the update from engineers every day and it was basically a template where only the solar number changed,” says Arvidson, Washington University St. Louis.

There have been a lot of discussion about other possible reasons that the possibility may have not called home than being loaded with dust. Not surprisingly, team members and people who have followed the task from the beginning have begun to wonder if the rover’s two linked batteries can be dropped or damaged in any way or worse, kill.

However, it is not likely that the batteries are completely dead, “said Marshall Smart, a leading member of the Technical Staff of the Electrochemical Technologies Group at JPL. “The batteries are quite robust. Although the batteries can be drained and frozen for several months, if heated properly and charged, they are likely to show operational capacity, even if they can deteriorate,” says Smart, an organic chemist as with Kumar Bugga, a Principal Member and Cognizant Engineer on the MER lithium ion battery (Li-ion) developed the electrolyte that enters the batteries to cope with the brutal freezing temperatures on Mars.

The batteries of the Spirit experienced similar undervoltage, to a lesser extent, when they were overcharged due to “flash memory anomaly” within the first month of the robber’s primary mission, Bugga said. “But they recovered and worked wonderfully long after that,” he said. “Another low voltage episode occurred with the protoflight batteries at Curiositywhere, several cells were released to less than 1 volt. But the batteries recovered and supported system integration and testing operations, albeit with reduced performance, higher impedance and lower capacity,” he said.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell

Oppys body, brains, heart and power pack

The diagram on the left shows the basic layout of Mars Exploration Rovers’ scientific science
instrument. The diagram on the right reveals the interior of the robber’s body, aka Warm
Electronics Box (WEB), which protects the hearts and hearts of the brain and lies immediately below
sun set “winglets”. It shows the location of the RAD6000 computer that acts as the robot
brain. Together with the parallel lithium ion battery (left) that drives the rover and others
electronics, it is housed in the Rover Electronics Module (REM), which is located inside WEB
protected from free Martian nights.

Accordingly, Opportunities batteries are likely to regain and work again when they get enough electrical charge from the sun sets, Bugga said. “Although there may be some performance loss due to its deep discharge, that loss can be expected to be less in its current” frozen “state.”

So, although Opportunity did not have the energy to use its heaters to keep her batteries hot during the global storm, the batteries should still work. That’s not to say there’s no way they could be hurt. “If the batteries are very cold and you try to charge them too quickly, it can be harmful to their health, for example, by plotting reactive lithium on the surface of the colonnade,” said Smart.

“However, this lithium plating is unlikely in a fully discharged battery; it is more likely that the batteries would not accept charging due to their high impedance at these low temperatures. This can lead to self-heating of the battery to warmer temperatures where charging is kinetically feasible, says Bugga.

However, if the battery voltage dropped too low, it could reduce battery capacity and performance, “said Smart.” If the voltage of the batteries and the cells inside are drained at very low values, a degradation mode can occur which leads to permanent capacity loss and impedance search. “

Although the batteries are heated and loaded gracefully, they may show poorer performance compared to their health before dropping and freezing,” as observed with Curiosity protoflight batteries. “Bugga noted.

Can the mission watch have worked through part or even through PEDE and constantly draining the batteries to effect

 MER batteries: a dynamic duo

NASA / JPL-Caltech

MER batteries: a dynamic duo

Despite some rumblings, Opportunity batteries may be dead or damaged beyond
use, JPL’s own MER battery experts, Kumar Bugga and Marshall Smart, which developed
the electrolyte enters the batteries to cope with the brutal beyond the freezing
temperatures on mars do not think any scenario is likely. About battery voltage
dropped too low, but it can reduce the battery capacity and performance they do
say. But that does not mean that the rover could not enjoy when she was recovered and
back to nominal status.

“This is less likely due to the low power required for the mission clock, which makes the undervoltage effects less effective, especially at these low temperatures,” says Bugga. Smart agrees: “I do not think the scenario would cause the batteries to be destroyed either. As mentioned above, the batteries allow drainage at very low voltage is not healthy for the battery, and is likely to lead to some performance loss. However, this one occurrence is not expected In addition, the harmful effects of draining the batteries to low voltage are not as dramatic at very low temperatures as the decomposition rate, which means dissolution of the anode copper current collector, will be slower. “

There is also the possibility of something somewhere on the rover broke. “We must accept the fact that this is a 14-year-old robber,” said Callas. “Remember my analogy, it’s the difference between your 17-year-old son who’s outside without a jacket and your 97-year-old grandmother outside without a jacket. We’re the 97 year old grandmother.”

Although there are no Evidence or reason to believe that something broke the rover, there is only no way to know without any data from Opportunity. If there is no failure or failure catastrophic failure, it all seems to come down to dust. Destructive things even more, there is only no way to know with certainty how much dust is falling on this rover. Given that PEDE literally covered the entire planet, it is difficult to understand the rover not to be dirty with dust.

“Yes, it was a giant dust storm and it was a lifting center close by, but how much of what actually falls locally compared to globally mixed in the atmosphere is not known, so it may or may not have been an important factor, “says Golombek.” To not be enough to at least charge the battery enough for it to wake up, there would have to be an additional amount of dust on the solar system arrays, probably more than we ever seen earlier. “

That’s exactly what Lemmon, Herman, Staab and others have been thinking about a few months now. “My mind is that, if nothing is broken, the opportunity’s solarray must be covered with a lot of dust so much that it blocks more than half of the light that strikes them, maybe as much as 80% or 90%,” says Herman.

“I think it’s more than half because of the results of some power simulations that I ran,” Herman continued. The entrances were the famous Rover and Mars positions, as well as Tau estimates from the orbits. “I assumed different amounts of dust on the sun sets, from enough dust to block 10% of sunlight to block 90% of sunlight,” she said. “If less than half of the sunlight is blocked by dust, the arrays should have produced enough energy to make us hear from Opportunity now. So, the only thing that makes sense – is that more than half of the Sunlight hitting the arrays is being blocked by accumulated dust, “she said.

Actually, the storm may have kicked up large particles that could have settled on the rover’s arrays, and those large particles may be part of the reason the sunlight is being blocked, as reported in the last issue of The MER Update. “Many papers suggest this, and they show that the larger particles settle close to the lifting area,” Lemmon said.

The curse and kiss of Martian winds

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / ASU

The curse and kiss of Martian winds

Opportunity used her Pancam to take the self portraits above, in January 2014 (left),
when her solar arrays was coated in the powdery Martian dust, and in late March 2014
(right) after the winds of Mars whisked off much of the dust from the arrays. As the
Martian winds give, they also take away. Both a curse and a blessing, the winds of Mars
have enabled the rover to live long and prosper. Just how dirty Opportunity is right now
as a result of the fallout from the planet-encircling dust storm that churned up in June
July, and August 2018, no one knows. But the Martian winds should start kicking up and
blowing through Endeavour when the dust-cleaning season begins in mid-November.

Since Opportunity is believed to have been very close to a lifting area for days, if larger stuff was lifted as proposed by those atmospheric scientists, that stuff may well have settled on and around the rover. While this supposition is still in the 'model' area, not the 'data' area, “I think it is likely,” said Lemmon.

Another factor to consider is that “Opportunity has always needed and gotten dust cleanings around this time of the Martian year whether there was a dust storm or not,” said Herman, who did the historic dust-cleaning research that informed the team.

Without any incoming data from the rover on the ground, all the team has had to go on is the orbital HiRISE image taken in September. As to what can actually be determined from that image depends on whom you talk to. While some scientists on the MER team think the rover looks as dusty as its immediate surroundings, others disagree.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, is a camera onboard the MRO. The 65-kilogram, $40-million instrument, built under the direction of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation, has been producing stunning imagery for more than a decade.

The HiRISE image of Opportunity in Perseverance Valley, which cuts the western rim of Endeavour, was acquired after the dust storm settled down and the Tau was around 1.5. “It shows that the top of the rover looks really bright,” said Arvidson. “But what’s interesting is that the surrounding areas don’t look particularly bright. The area actually doesn’t look much brighter overall pre and post-PEDE. Still, the deck itself looks really bright so it may have trapped more dust than the surrounding areas.”

Initially HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen, of the University of Arizona, interpreted that most of the fallout from the storm settled at latitudes higher than Opportunity's coordinates. “Butsince then, we have seen evidence for extensive dust fallout in some equatorial regions as well, such as in Valles Marineris,” he said.

“What is clear is that the dust deposition is very non-uniform, in spite of the fact that the atmospheric dust looked uniform at the peak of the PEDE,” said McEwen, who is a planetary geologist and director of the Planetary Image Research Laboratory (PIRL) at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, at the UA.

When the sky first cleared

NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

When the sky first cleared

The MER team saw Opportunity for the first time in months when HiRISE, a high-resolution
camera onboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took this image in late
September 2018, after the sky over Endeavour cleared from the monster global storm
called a planet-encircling dust Event (PEDE). The image shows that the rover is still
hunkered down at her site about halfway down Perseverance Valley, which cuts the
western rim of Endeavour Crater. But to untrained and unknowing eyes, the golf cart
size rover could be mistaken for a boulder. The square highlighting the rover is about
one kilometer (a half-mile) across.

“The west rim of Endeavour Crater looks remarkably similar in color and albedo patterns as an image with similar lighting acquired before the PEDE, with the exception of some small streaks extending south from topographic knobs on the crater floor, McEwen added. “This suggests that some dust was deposited on the nearby crater floor, then removed by surface winds except where protected by topographic obstacles.” [See animated HiRISE gif in this report].

As for what the images tells us about Opportunity? “I don’t think we can say much about the brightness of the rover itself, given the unique photometric geometry of this image compared to previous images of the rover, and the fact that atmospheric opacity was still higher than normal,” McEwen said.

The rover’s solar arrays only occupy a few HiRISE image pixels. “So doing an analysis of how bright the arrays are relative to the surroundings is beset with problems associated with small numbers of samples, and therefore relatively large errors in estimates of the amount of dust on the panels relative to the surroundings,” Arvidson elaborated.

There are, however, plans for HiRISE to take another image. In fact, a shoot had been scheduled in late October as a ride-along with the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) observation that Arvidson, a CRISM co-investigator, proposed. But that was deferred because of troubleshooting a relay problem between MRO and Curiosity.

October proved to be a tough month on Mars. In addition to Oppy’s situation and Curiosity’s memory problem, that troubleshooting required the MRO team to turn off MARCI, CRISM, along with other instruments onboard for a couple of weeks. “Because we’re troubleshooting this relay issue on the MRO, we’ve powered down the instruments temporarily, except for HiRISE, which doesn’t seem to have any of this interference,” said Zurek.“We have had some relay glitches as we were trying to work through with Curiosity, and we’re all getting ready for InSight because it’s not very far away and we’ll be landing shortly after Thanksgiving.”

The objective was to make the environment as quiet as possible as the engineers worked to resolve the anomalous interference with the MRO relay. “We’ll reschedule CRISM for after the InSight landing,” said Zurek.

While you can’t see even see the rover at all in a CRISM pixel, the MER scientists will be able to check out the scene around Opportunity. “With CRISM’s 18-meter per pixel spatial resolution, it is impossible to see the rover,” said Arvidson. “Instead the intent is to estimate the amount of dust that has accumulated on Endeavour Crater’s rim overall as another constraint on what may have accumulated on the rover’s solar arrays.”

NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

Now you see the dust, and now you don’t

This gif shows that dust on the floor of Endeavour has been whisked away, indicating
there is wind activity at least on the floor of the crater. Initially HiRISE Principal
Investigator Alfred McEwen, of the University of Arizona, interpreted that most of the
fallout from the storm settled at latitudes higher than Opportunity's coordinates. “But
since then, we have seen evidence for extensive dust fallout in some equatorial regions
as well,” he said.

So the MER team won’t have to wait for InSight to land for HiRISE to take another image. “We will probably try again for the cycle that executes between Nov 11th–24thsaid McEwen. “This should be a much better image with clearer air, unless a regional storm kicks up before then, which is common in summer in the southern hemisphere of Mars.”

With NASA’s approval, the MER team is pressing on positively. Work will soon begin on the extended mission plan, beyond 2019. “It’s due in the second week of February,” said Arvidson. “We still have to submit a plan about the science we would do assuming the rover wakes up. We have to do it. It would be weird if on February 1stthe vehicle responds because the dust has been blown off and, despite being 15 years old, it’s survived on its own for nine months or so and us not have a proposal ready.”

The extended mission would essentially pick up where the PEDE stopped MER in its tracks. Opportunity would continue the science campaign in Perseverance Valley and then drive down into the crater.

First, of course, the robot field geologist has to wake up and the team has to recover her, fix the faults that have been tripped and attend to anything else it would take to put the veteran robot back in the saddle. “Even if we reestablish contact with Opportunity, it will still take a month or more to get the rover under complete Earth control and back to business, and we have to have that in the proposal too,” Arvidson said.

“There is a lot of hope that the vehicle can survive this long and not be communicating with us, because of the dust cover, and then the wind blows off enough dust and we get Opportunity up and running again – that’s the pro side,” Arvidson said. “The con side is – geessh, she’s going on 15 years old. I mean it’s not like we just bought the vehicle. But who knows? We all hope Opportunity comes back.”

Both Opportunity and her twin, Spirit, were “warrantied” for 90-day primary missions on the Martian surface. The expectation was that Mars’ extreme winters and dust storms would take them out. While Spirit, which landed in the harsher region of Gusev Crater, succumbed sometime in 2010, Opportunity has been like the energizer rover ever since, carrying on it seems with the power of two.

In the immediate future, the team will continue the routine of the last month and half. “I don’t suspect there will be much difference in what we do over the next few months,” said Golombek.

NASA hasn't set any deadlines for the mission. The only plan it seems now is that the team will appear before the Mars Program officials at JPL and the powers-that-be at the space agency again for a reassessment sometime in January 2019. “No one has mentioned deadlines recently,” noted Golombek. “Perhaps it’s because of the popularity of the rovers.”

“Until we hear”

S. Lever

“Until we hear”

MER Mission Manager Scott Lever decided the day after the rover shut down to wait out
the storm to begin growing a beard, and will continue to let it grow “until we hear from
Oppy or give up trying.” The selfie on the left was taken shortly after the team lost
contact. The one on the right was taken on Sep. 26, 2018, after 108 days of silence. The
image on the right was snapped, after coiffing, at the end of October. Like everyone else
on the team, he’s looking forward to getting that ‘phone call’ from Mars.

Grateful and relieved to have NASA’s approval to continue with both active and passive listening, the MER ops team is focusing all eyes and all efforts like a laser beam on the prize. “We will be much happier when finally hear from her,” said Keuneke.

Silent as Oppy was in October, with NASA’s go-ahead, the month of All Hallow’s Eve brought a welcomed kind of fall color to the team. “It’s great that NASA is continuing to use the best available tools for communicating with the rover through January,” said Lemmon. “If there is no signal by then, I'm not sure how we'd get a signal. But between now and then is when we expect the winds, and this is a time when it is still warm at Opportunity’s site.”

Meanwhile, Staab has started to work on what the team calls Hail Mary scenarios, “our last-ditch efforts,” he said. “We’re trying to identify all the scenarios that could have happened, and then which ones we can actually do something about, and how we would actually go about commanding to rule out those scenarios have occurred.” [More on that next issue.]

Time however sets it’s own deadline. Summer will be transitioning into fall in the coming months and fall of course turns to winter. “As we move past summer, solar insolation will be decreasing and temperatures will be decreasing, and unless we get some dust cleaning, dust will continue to accumulate on the solar arrays,” said Callas. “Since the storm, dust has probably continued to settle out of the atmosphere and has probably accumulated even more on the rover, so it is concerning. We just don’t know. The rover hasn’t talked to us, and that is the thing that will tell us what’s going on.”

While the MER team members simply do not know the state of their rover, Opportunity is cherished, and many are choosing to believe, at least for now. That’s not surprising. Belief in themselves and in their rovers put this team into the history books again and again and again, and along the way they succeeded in taking the world on NASA’s first overland expedition of Mars.

These human Mars explorers have bonded with this “Little Miss Perfect” rover in a way that no previous robotic planetary mission ever has – and that is no doubt a key factor in how and why this 90-day mission has gone on for nearly 15 years. “If we could bring Opportunity back just with the strength of our emotions,” said Herman, “she would be back already.”

MER optimism prevails and with luck the mission’s lucky star is still shining. “There is no reason to think yet – we haven’t heard from Opportunity, that means it’s gone,” said Staab. “We’re not even to the point where cleaning season historically begins. So there’s no reason to give up yet. We’re not at that point yet.”

S. Atkinson

Not this day

Author and astronomy outreach educator, Stuart Atkinson, who has been following MER since
the beginning used Google’s Aragorn meme generator to create this graphic. The images are
from the 2003 movie version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,
directed by Peter Jackson. Atkinson frequently contributes images to The MER Update and has
his own blog that has tracked Oppy’s travels since her journey to Endeavour Crater began. See
his The Road to Endeavour.

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Faela