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Photos of Ingenuity show dust on the solar panel. Does air moved by the rotors keep it clean enough to [edited] keep charging the batteries?

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    $\begingroup$ The projected lifetime of the panel is much longer than the projected lifetime of Ingenuity overall - the moving bits will fail long before the panel. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    May 6, 2021 at 12:50
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    $\begingroup$ @JonCuster NASA robots on Mars sometimes last a heck of a lot longer than their initial mission design lifetime, Unless you have numerical information on actual lifetime projections that you can share with us, don't just assume the mechanical parts will fail quickly. On the other hand, "Dust on Ingenuity solar panel" could lead to a quick end of mission if it gets bad enough that there's not enough power to charge the batteries sufficiently to run the warmers overnight, the electronics in the warm box may get too cold and fail. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 6, 2021 at 22:36
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    $\begingroup$ I guess it hinges on what is meant by ‘life of the panel’, which I interpreted as expected life time of the panel itself, not of time for dust to cover it to the point it is useless. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    May 7, 2021 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ But the point is that if the panel gets covered with enough dust, the electronics could fail prematurely, long before the moving bits fail. Your first comment suggests this is not a concern on the basis that the solar panel should outlast the moving bits. But the electronics could die even if the solar panel does outlive the moving bits, if that solar panel is incapacitated by dust. $\endgroup$
    – user39728
    May 7, 2021 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ @user39728_i_said_user_39728_i_ - if the lens cap is left on, that doesn't mean the camera sensor failed. The system may fail, but it isn't because the panel 'failed'. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    May 9, 2021 at 0:27

2 Answers 2

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This tweet by Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer who is usually pretty in the know says:

JPL reports that Ingenuity's flight shook some of the dust off its solar panels, so it has more power now.

This is confirmed in the briefing:

“Ingenuity is extremely healthy at this point,” Balaram said in a de-briefing session with reporters on Monday. In addition to shaking off dust, the batteries are “looking good, comms are fantastic” and the landing gear, solar mechanisms, computers and avionics “behaved flawlessly.” - Bob Balaram, chief Ingenuity engineer.

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Supplementary answer.

For solar panels on other spacecraft on Mars covered in dust, a locally-flown helicopter-like craft might be able to help to clean them!

Then presumably the helicopter could be recharged from them through some local inductively coupled power transfer, or by docking with its own "ground station landing pad" with solar panels that it also keeps clean.

From Solar panel cleaning method goes intergalactic – as NASA investigates airflow cleaning of its Mars rovers

The vehicle’s future was uncertain for long: The same winds that have blown away dust from the solar panels would cover them again, as Mars experienced unprecedented dust storms. In February of this year, a fifth rover – ‘Perseverance’ – landed successfully on Mars. Unlike its predecessors, it brought a small helicopter, called ‘Ingenuity’ (header image). Whilst the helicopter is solar powered, the rover is driven by a radioisotope battery instead.

Even without epic Martian dust storms, a previous 90-day mission by the ‘Sojourner’ rover saw its power output reduced by 23% by the mission’s end. Similarly, accumulating dust here on earth reduces solar panel energy production – after one month by up to a third in arid regions like the Middle East, unless they are expensively maintained.

A Mars rover can be angled to ‘catch’ surface winds and blow accumulated dust away, but earth’s solar farm panels are fixed in place. ‘Aerial Power’ envisions to bring the cleaning wind to solar panels. It has developed cleaning drones that detect the solar panels. The highly accurate self-flying drones create down-draft over these – row by row. The downward airflow bows away soiling such as dust.

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    $\begingroup$ This video: mars.nasa.gov/resources/25833/… gives a great visualisation as to how much air/dust is displaced when Ingenuity takes off, which should make it easier to see how it might clean panels. $\endgroup$
    – Freddie R
    May 24, 2021 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ @FreddieR Beautiful! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 24, 2021 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ This sounds reckless for a Mars mission. Why do you need a helicopter at all? Simply put a big fan (helicopter blades) on a post above the solar panels. Less weight to carry (it doesn't need a separate power system, nor a guidance system) and no chance of crashing into the rover. It's also not likely to be killed by cold unless the rover itself dies. (And the same thing would apply to landers as well as rovers.) $\endgroup$ May 25, 2021 at 3:09

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