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Previous Mars probes became helpless and unusable after their solar panels became covered in dust.

Since InSight, unlike previous or other planned probes, is equipped with a long robotic arm, does it also have a tool such as a brush so it can dust itself off?

If not, why did NASA choose not to equip the probe with such a tool? Especially since it already has the most complex mechanism (the arm) and since such a capability could prevent the loss of the probe or mission and might prolong its useful life.

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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of How will the ExoMARS Rover keep it's solar panels dust-free and collecting maximum power? $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Nov 28 '18 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ Can you name the previous Mars probes that "...became helpless and unusable after their solar panels became covered in dust." and explain how it is known that the problem was dust on their solar panels and not dust causing problems? Thanks! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 28 '18 at 10:27
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    $\begingroup$ This is related but not a duplicate: Could dusters be installed on solar panels on a mars lander? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 28 '18 at 10:29
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    $\begingroup$ I'd urge you to go through Cleaning event, it should gives you a brief idea. $\endgroup$ – not_Prince Nov 29 '18 at 5:14
  • $\begingroup$ What about examples for helpless and unusable probes after their solar panels became covered in dust? Were the probes unusable forever? $\endgroup$ – Uwe Dec 1 '18 at 22:23
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NASA has been working on electrostatic panel cleaning system. I don't know if it has been tested in space or is on the Insight or not. This item was written in 2010 so there has been some time for the technology to improve:

From Science Daily's Self-cleaning technology from Mars can keep terrestrial solar panels dust free

In a report at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) on August 22, they described how a self-cleaning coating on the surface of solar cells could increase the efficiency of producing electricity from sunlight and reduce maintenance costs for large-scale solar installations.

and continues:

Working with NASA, Mazumder and colleagues initially developed the self-cleaning solar panel technology for use in lunar and Mars missions. "Mars of course is a dusty and dry environment," Mazumder said, "and solar panels powering rovers and future manned and robotic missions must not succumb to dust deposition. But neither should the solar panels here on Earth."

The self-cleaning technology involves deposition of a transparent, electrically sensitive material deposited on glass or a transparent plastic sheet covering the panels. Sensors monitor dust levels on the surface of the panel and energize the material when dust concentration reaches a critical level. The electric charge sends a dust-repelling wave cascading over the surface of the material, lifting away the dust and transporting it off of the screen's edges.

Mazumder said that within two minutes, the process removes about 90 percent of the dust deposited on a solar panel and requires only a small amount of the electricity generated by the panel for cleaning operations.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is an interesting technology! Why don't you consider asking a new question about it to find out how far along this technology has developed since 2010 and if it is, or will be used on Mars or Moon landers? Welcome to Space! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Dec 1 '18 at 22:58
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This just in: NASA’s InSight Mars Lander Gets a Power Boost

The team behind NASA’s InSight Mars lander has come up with an innovative way to boost the spacecraft’s energy at a time when its power levels have been falling. The lander’s robotic arm trickled sand near one solar panel, helping the wind to carry off some of the panel’s dust. The result was a gain of about 30 watt-hours of energy per sol, or Martian day.

This has been though of before (or in the future) on Rigel XII, but in a somewhat different context!

Eve McHuron (played by Karen Steele) was actually talking to Ben Childress (played by Gene Dynarski)

Well why don't you hang your pan out in the wind and let the sand blast it clean? Or hadn't you thought about that?

Star Trek TOS S1E6 "Well why don't you hang your pan out in the wind and let the sand blast it clean? Or hadn't you thought about that?"

(from this episode)


The NASA article continues:

The power boost should delay the instruments being switched off by a few weeks, gaining precious time to collect additional science data. The team will try to clear a bit more dust from the same solar panel this Saturday, June 5, 2021.

Dust in the Wind

InSight’s team has been thinking up ways to try to clear dust from its solar panels for almost a year. For example, they tried pulsing the solar panel deployment motors (last used when InSight opened its solar panels after landing) to shake the dust off but didn’t succeed.

More recently, several members of the science team started pursuing the counterintuitive technique of trickling sand near – but not directly on top of – the panels. Matt Golombek, a member of the InSight science team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which manages the mission, noted that it might be possible to strike dust on the panels with sand grains that would “saltate,” or hop off the solar panel surface and skip through the air in the wind. The larger grains might then carry off the smaller dust particles in the wind.

To try the technique, the team used the scoop on InSight’s robotic arm to trickle sand next to InSight’s solar panels on May 22, 2021, the 884th sol of the mission, at around noon Mars time – the windiest time of day. It was easiest for InSight’s arm to be positioned over the lander’s deck, high enough for the winds to blow sand over the panels. Sure enough, with winds blowing northwest at a maximum of 20 feet (6 meters) per second, the trickling of sand coincided with an instantaneous bump in the spacecraft’s overall power.

“We weren’t sure this would work, but we’re delighted that it did,” Golombek said.

Saltation!

Saltation source

tiny video:

See also:

NASA's InSight lander tried a novel approach to remove dust clinging to one of its solar panels. On May 22, 2021, the 884th Martian day, or sol, of the mission, the lander's robotic arm trickled sand above the panel.

NASA's InSight lander tried a novel approach to remove dust clinging to one of its solar panels. On May 22, 2021, the 884th Martian day, or sol, of the mission, the lander's robotic arm trickled sand above the panel. As wind carried the sand grains across the panel, they picked up some dust along the way, enabling the lander to gain about 30 watt-hours of energy per sol.

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