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NASA begins a 45-day clock contact with Mars Rover Opportunity as the dust storm wanes

Tracks from NASA’s Opportunity rover on Mars are visible on the martian surface in this photo, taken in June 2017. After months of silence from Chance as a result of a dust storm on Mars, NASA has begun a 45-day campaign to re-contact with the rover.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.)

The planet-enveloping dust storm on Mars has paid enough for NASA to begin a 45-day active-listening period in which the agency hopes to make contact with the rover Opportunity, after three months of silence, NASA yesterday (Sept. 11).

So, for the next 45 days, NASA engineers will nudge the spacecraft multiple times per day, instead of three times per week, that was the procedure. That schedule is based on the hope that the rover is now harvesting enough solar energy to receive and respond to commands. In this “active listening” procedure, NASA will send instructions to the rover to create a signal with a certain frequency, if it is enabled and not severely damaged.

If the rover has not yet made contact if the 45 days have passed, NASA will have to determine how to proceed. In a statement released Aug. 30, the agency said it would continue to listen passively for the rover until the end of January. [Mars Dust Storm 2018: What It Means for the Opportunity Rover]

The new phase of the recovery plan was activated when the NASA two successive measurements of the coverage, called tau, of less than 1.5. When the Opportunity presented itself first lost contact with the Earth, which of the measurements above 10. The agency hopes that now that the dust is settling from the Martian sky, the rover solar panels will be able to successfully load, so that the robot can resume the contact with the Earth.

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When the plan was announced, some scientists connected to the mission of the concern that pegging this active listening period to the atmospheric opacity would start the clock on a Chance to quickly.

That is because all that dust falls down, so there is nothing to stop it from falling on the rover’s solar panels. And if the problem is dust blocking the solar panels from the load, it doesn’t matter if the dust floating in the air or resting on the panels. Mars has seasonal weather patterns called dust devils that could clear the dust away, but that will not begin until November — by which point, the 45 days of active outreach will be terminated.

The rover is exploring the surface of Mars since 2004, far from its original mission timeline of 90 Martian days (a Martian day is about 40 minutes longer than an earthly existence). But the engineers and scientists that the control of the rover haven’t heard a peep of Opportunities since June 10.

They hope that the robot is only in hibernation, waiting for the dust to settle. Either way, the next 45 days can be the best chance a Chance to leave.

Original article on Space.com.

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