Phoenix Is Dead; Spirit Is Dying
And Yes, It Feels Like Tragedy
The Phoenix lander is on the Martian equivalent of the arctic circle, and although it hasn’t quite reached winter there (yet), there’s not enough sunlight to keep the spacecraft operating at any level. To quote a famous physician, “It’s dead, Jim.”
Phoenix is gone. We knew this would happen, and we even knew approximately when it would happen; the mathematics of solar input, solar panel output, and power consumption was relatively straightforward, so we knew from the moment that Phoenix survived its landing that it would most likely die some time in November.
It lasted about 60 days longer than it’s “expected” 90 day life span. The Martian steppe is that harsh a place.
The Mars Rover, Spirit, is not doing so hot itself. As you can see in the picture, its solar panels are so coated with dust that it can’t get enough sunlight either.
A dust storm on Mars has cut into the amount of sunlight reaching the solar array on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, leaving the rover in a vulnerable state.
Spirit’s solar array produced only 89 watt hours of energy during the rover’s 1,725th Martian day, which ended on Nov. 9. This is the lowest output by either Spirit or its twin, Opportunity, in their nearly five years on Mars, and much less energy than Spirit needs each day. The charge level of Spirit’s batteries is dropping so low, it risks triggering an automated response of the rover trying to protect itself.
Spirit (and Opportunity) have spent 5 years, now, in those harsh conditions, and both have been saved more than once by fortuitous encounters with dust devils. They got their solar panels cleaned.
But you can’t count on that kind of luck.