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?
(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.
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.