Death of the Phoenix

This One Won’t Come Back To Life

The Phoenix Lander sits at the Martian equivalent of the artic circle, and winter is coming there. That means 6 (count ’em, 6) months of night (well, lots of it is like twilight, actually), and no way for the spacecraft to recharge it’s batteries.  From The Planetary Society:

With less and less sunlight each sol, and more frequent cloudy days, Phoenix’ solar cells are generating less power each day. At the same time, it’s getting colder, so the spacecraft is requiring more and more power just to keep its instruments and systems warm. Soon there will not be enough power generated each day to power the heaters and still manage to do any operations.

NASA engineers will be trying to terminate the mission as gracefully and gradually as possible, to maximize the science return.  Already, the robotic arm has been shut down, and won’t be used again.  Soon, the heaters will be turned off, one by one.

“If we did nothing, it wouldn’t be long before the power needed to operate the spacecraft would exceed the amount of power it generates on a daily basis,” said Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “By turning off some heaters and instruments, we can extend the life of the lander by several weeks and still conduct some science.”

Some of the instruments, the mast mounted camera, for example, can run for quite a while that way, because the generate sufficient heat on their own, relative to their needs.  But ultimately, the spacecraft will freeze.

Mars is a harsh place.

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One Comment on “Death of the Phoenix”


  1. […] under science | Tags: mars, nasa, phoenix, science |   The always curious Joe Buckley blog reports on the expected Phoenix Lander mission termination, as the rigorous martian winter approaches: NASA […]


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