NASA has said that it may never be able to establish contact with the Opportunity rover again. The craft got caught up in a Martian dust storm in June this year.
Though the problems for the Opportunity may have been over as the storm has decayed, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Andrew Good said that the battery for the $400 million vehicle might have discharged so much power and been inactive for so long, that it might not revoke.
He said that now, even if the engineers are able to establish some contact with the Opportunity again, the possibility is that the rover won’t be the same. The batteries of the rover would have discharged so much power till now and stayed inactive so long that their capacity must have got reduced. This would affect the rover’s continued operations.
Good also said that it is hard to know how the Opportunity rover is doing “until it speaks,”. He added that the team behind it is still optimistic after performing tests on its batteries before the storm has hit.
He said that there still seems to be some chance as the batteries were in relatively good health before the storm. So likely, there hasn’t been too much degradation that has taken place. Also the fact that dust storms tend to warm the environment, should help the rover stay warm enough to survive.
Good added that the dust should not be much of a problem. Even the dust accumulated in the previous storms did not cause any problems. The dust storm had started on June 10 and eventually covered the entire planet.
Though the scientists have been optimistic, they are disappointed that they have not been able to communicate with the rover ever since the storm hit.
Good said that when they hear from the rover, only then would they know about it’s condition. They are trying to ping the rover and hear back from it three times a week. He compared this situation to a patient coming out of coma.
The Opportunity rover has three so-called “fault modes” when it experiences a problem. The first one is a low-power fault that takes it to hibernation until there is more sunlight to let it recharge. The second one is the clock fault, which might happen if the rover doesn’t know what time it is which causes disruptions in communication. The third one is the uploss fault, which occurs when the rover hasn’t heard from the Earth in a long time and caused it to check its equipment and try alternate ways to communicate with the Earth.