Current events makes this question even more poignant

  1. sols 5183 to 5189, Aug. 23, 2018 - Aug. 29, 2018: Team Continues to Listen for Opportunity

  2. Curiosity selfie has been released just a few days ago, showing better the collection of sand on top of the rover:

After snagging a new rock sample on August 9, 2018 (Sol 2137), NASA's Curiosity rover surveyed its surroundings on Mars, producing a 360-degree panorama of its current location on Vera Rubin Ridge. The scene is presented with a color adjustment that approximates white balancing, to resemble how the rocks and sand would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth. Two versions are included here: one with scale bars, and one without.

The panorama includes umber skies, darkened by a fading global dust storm. It also includes a rare view by the Mast Camera of the rover itself, revealing a thin layer of dust on Curiosity's deck. In the foreground is the rover's most recent drill target, named "Stoer" after a town in Scotland near where important discoveries about early life on Earth were made in lakebed sediments.

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Surfaces still dust-covered five months later!

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above: even the inclined surface of the high gain antenna seems covered in dust! Cropped from Phys.org's Curiosity says farewell to Mars' Vera Rubin Ridge .

A selfie taken by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on Sol 2291 (January 15) at the "Rock Hall" drill site, located on Vera Rubin Ridge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

See also Space.com's Curiosity Snaps Epic 'Selfie' on Mars as It Moves On to New Martian Sights

Edit: In light (or lack of light in this case) of the current dust storm on Mars discussed in the recent NASA news article Opportunity Hunkers Down During Dust Storm and since almost two years have passed, I've un-accepted @Phiteros' answer to see if there is an update on ExoMARS' dust-on-solar-panels strategy.

Since it does not have an RTG, ExoMARS relies on efficient collection of solar radiation for its mission to succeed.

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above: "This global map of Mars shows a growing dust storm as of June 6, 2018. The map was produced by the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. The blue dot indicates the approximate location of Opportunity." From here. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

I remember reading stories about the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers related to solar power and dust - about problems with dust storms, and parking on an incline for the winter in order to collect enough power to 'stay alive'.

The Curiosity rover carries a large, powerful RTG for both thermal heat (circulating fluids) and of course electrical power.

Now it seems the ExoMARS rover will use solar panels again. The do seem a bit larger compared to the size (or volume) of the craft compared to Spirit and Opportunity, but I am wondering, what management techniques are begin considered for the ExoMARS rover to handle covering of the horizontal panels by dust, or low solar elevation in 'winter'?

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above: "A 1:4 model of the ExoMars rover at the ESA pavilion, 2007 International Paris Air Show at the Le Bourget airport." From here.

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above: "The deck of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit is so dusty that the rover almost blends into the dusty background in this image assembled from frames taken by the panoramic camera (Pancam) during the period from Spirit's Sol 1,355 through Sol 1,358 (Oct. 26-29, 2007)... Dust on the solar panels reduces the amount of electrical power the rover can generate from sunlight each sol." From here.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe they too will trust the Devil to take care of it ;-/ $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Commented Sep 18, 2016 at 10:53
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    $\begingroup$ @LocalFluff you mean this one? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 18, 2016 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ It took a lot of looking and special software to detect changes in images in order to catch those dust devils. It was not luck. $\endgroup$
    – Mark Adler
    Commented Sep 18, 2016 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ During an astronomy class I took in college, the professor said that the dust devils would often clean the solar panels off and that would help keep the rovers operating for far longer than expected. I don't have a citation for this, however. $\endgroup$
    – Cody
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh: And risk another case of unplanned mission time extension by 5700%? Scientists may be happy, but managers are secretly praying for Opportunity to finally break down and free up the funds. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 23:57

2 Answers 2


They will likely be relying on two things:

  1. Since the rate at which dust will accumulate on the solar panels is pretty well known, they can estimate a lifespan of the rover. All space probes have some form of estimated lifespan, and the primary science mission is generally planned to fit within that low timeframe. However, as we've seen from Spirit and (especially) Opportunity, the actual lifespan of the rover can be much longer because of:
  2. Cleaning events. Basically, Mars has just enough of an atmosphere to have wind that blows the dust around. This cleans off the solar panels every once in a while, allowing the rovers to keep operating. Here's a picture of Opportunity before and after one such cleaning event:

Opportunity Cleaning Event

Spirit and Opportunity were only expected to last 90 days, but when it was discovered that the dust occasionally gets cleared off, the missions became much longer. Spirit only stopped when it became stuck in soft sand and could no longer angle its solar panels correctly. Opportunity, on the other hand, is still going, 12 years later.

Here is a news article about one of the more recent cleaning events for Opportunity.

As far as hibernation during the winter, they will likely follow the same techniques used by Spirit and Opportunity. Unfortunately, I do not know this for sure, but since it worked for MER, they will likely use the same legacy technique. Some of the instruments will also have their own independent batteries, such as the DREAMS experiment, which will operate during the dust storm season.

Here you can see the difference in dust before and after a cleaning event

In all likelihood, ExoMars will not have any method to remove the dust. There are several reasons for this. A mechanical device would probably have trouble because of the dust's static charge. Tilting and shaking the rover could work, but it would be complicated and possibly damaging to sensitive instruments. Other methods involve washing them (which requires liquid), using an electrostatic charge (still requires tilting the panels, and could also damage sensitive electronics), and blowing them off (requires moving a high-powered fan across the panels).

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks - this sounds like an opinion and it's fairly consistent with my best guess as well, but I'm asking here in SX SE because I'd like to read information about the ExoMARS rover supported by links. Can you add a link that shows that "the rate at which dust will accumulate on the solar panels is pretty well known" Is that rate steady? The same everywhere? Since both collection and removal of dust is related to wind and therefore weather, I don't see how either one can be reliable. Also, are you 100% sure there will not be any dust mitigating technology? Has that been stated? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 5:03
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh Bam, gotcha covered. As far as whether or not its well known over the whole planet, I think they have a fairly consistent model. In addition to the instrument on Sojourner, they can characterize how quickly the dust settles by using these selfies to determine how much dust is on the rover in a before and after picture. As far as whether or not there will be any dust removal methods, I will add a section on that. $\endgroup$
    – Phiteros
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 5:11
  • $\begingroup$ Excellent! However if there is future answer with information directly about the ExoMARS solar panels that tops this, I'll have to go with that. But you've convinced me this is probably what's going to happen. Thanks for all the links! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 5:19
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh And that is completely understandable. But, as I am sure you found, information on specific design elements for the rover appears to be scarce. Such information may be limited in release to the public. Hopefully we'll get to know more about it after it begins its mission. $\endgroup$
    – Phiteros
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 5:22
  • $\begingroup$ I enjoyed the Emily Lakdawalla blog post - especially the before/after sliders! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 1:35

This is from 2005, not sure if still exactly the same but the plan is variable inclination solar panels can be tilted anywhere from horizontal to vertical (folded up like a butterfly). So it can tilt them to optimal angle. For a dust storm there's not much light and its from the whole sky, so they use especially efficient solar panels for low light conditions and lower them flat during a dust storm


It was also going to have radioisotope heating units to keep it warm at night so even with no solar power in a dust storm it will still stay warm.

But these were dropped

" RHUs have not been adopted, avoiding the technical and organizational complications associated with their use. The inclination angle of the SA can beadjusted to maximize solar power collection for different landing latitudes. This system also provides flexibility while driving on slopes and permits lowering the array in case of dust storm conditions. "

I don't know if these variable inclination arrays still apply. And they seem to think that dust will impact on operations and leave it at that:

The larger lander and its European-built rover are expected to operate for 7 to 12 months, relying on solar panels for their power supply. Although ExoMars 2020 will arrive outside the main dust storm season, the mission is almost certain to be affected by dust during its operational lifetime. In particular, a build up of dust on the solar panels will reduce power supply and may necessitate a temporary shut down of surface operations.

A stormy arrival for Schiaparelli?


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