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Hope dwindles as NASA’s Opportunity rover refuses to contact Earth

Published Sep 5th, 2018 9:01PM EDT
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Time flies when you’re trying to message a rover that just won’t wake up. It’s now been nearly three full months since NASA has heard from the Opportunity rover which fell into hibernation following a massive dust storm that swallowed Mars whole. The solar-powered rover was expected to enter a low-power default state, but with the Sun now shining through the clearing skies, the rover can’t seem to snap out of its funk.

The rover, which is over a decade and a half old at this point, was only supposed to last a few months on the Martian surface. It’s since spent over 14 years on the Martian surface, and the original mission timeline has been extended again and again as the rover proved it was up for additional work, but now it’s looking more and more like it might be the end of the road.

Waiting for the rover to wake back up has to be stressful for NASA engineers. A few weeks back the team revealed that they had been building playlists of songs to keep their spirits high, but as their repeated attempts to contact Opportunity are met with only silence, the hope that the rover will suddenly spring to life is fading.

“It is expected that Opportunity has experienced a low-power fault and perhaps, a mission clock fault and then, an up-loss timer fault,” the Opportunity team explained in a recent mission update. “The project is continuing to listen for the rover either during the expected fault communication windows, or listening over a broader range of times using the Deep Space Network Radio Science Receiver.”

The scientists also revealed that they occasionally send a short message to the rover in the hopes that it might be awake but just not actively attempting to communicate. “The project is also sending a command three times a week to elicit a beep if the rover happens to be awake,” the team says.

The biggest fear for the scientists is that the rover’s batteries — which aren’t used to sitting cold and depleted for such a long span — may have been damaged to totally destroyed during the downtime. Nevertheless, the team is going to stick it out a little while longer, but the clock is ticking and if they don’t hear back soon the robot will be declared dead.

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