Mars Opportunity And Spirit Rovers Could Have Lived Practically Forever With One Tiny Change
“If one extra piece of equipment, such as a compressed air blower aboard a robotic arm, were installed, dusty solar panels could be cleaned at will. Hunkering down to survive a dust storm, even one that blocked 100% of the light, wouldn’t be catastrophic so long as the rovers had enough power stored in their batteries to control and operate the blower mechanism. Had that been in place, Spirit could have saved itself from its 2010 fate, and Opportunity wouldn’t be in the danger it’s in now, in the midst of the enormous dust storm it’s experiencing. Still, even though hindsight is 20/20, it’s pretty hard to be sad about two missions that overachieved beyond anyone’s expectations. But for next time, it’s an invaluable lesson: if you can protect yourself from Martian dust accumulation, you could potentially live forever. At least, if you’re a rover on Mars.”
If a dust storm blots out the Sun, then we shall rove in the shade, says the brave Mars rover. But for a rover like Opportunity, which relies on solar panels, this is a lousy, battery-draining strategy that would be its death knell. Despite the fact that it’s lasted for over 5,000 Martian days and roved for over 45 kilometers, this single large dust storm that it’s caught it could be its absolute end. Unless a natural cleaning event occurs, its panels may be so dust-covered as to be useless, which is how Spirit, its twin, met its demise in 2010. Although the rover has far exceeded its expectations, if it were built with the capability of actively addressing the dust accumulation problem, both Spirit and Opportunity could have lived, practically, forever.