Why NASA’s Mars missions will go silent for several weeks

NASA will cease sending missions to Mars in the coming weeks.

Although the Earth and Mars are on opposite sides of the sun (during Mars’s biennial solar conjunction), the planets cannot be “seen.”

The sun emits hot, ionized gas from its corona, which can obstruct radio signals as well as the orders and communications of engineers on spacecraft.

According to a NASA statement issued on Tuesday, most missions will cease sending commands to the Mars spacecraft between Saturday and October 16.

Some will decide to extend the moratorium by a day or two, but this will be determined by the angular distance between Mars and the sun in the Earth’s sky.

During this time, however, Mars missions will not be completely inactive.

The Perseverance Mars Rover, which landed in February of this year, will take meteorological measurements with its MEDA (Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer) sensors, run the RIMFAX radar (Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment), record new sounds with its microphones, and use its cameras to look like dust devils.

The Mars Helicopter is not scheduled to fly, but it will send a weekly status report to “Percy.”

The Curiosity Mars Rover, which has been on Mars since August 2012, will also take meteorological measurements with its REMS (Rover Environmental Monitoring Station) sensors, search for dust devils with its cameras, and measure radiation with its RAD (Radiation Assessment Detector) and DAN Sensors (Dynamic Neutron Albedo).

Finally, NASA’s InSight lander will continue to detect earthquakes with its seismometer, and NASA’s three orbiters will continue to transmit some data from surface missions back to Earth in addition to gathering their own science.

“While our missions to Mars will be less active in the coming weeks, they will still keep us updated on their health,” said Roy Gladden, manager of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) Mars Relay Network. “Each mission has been assigned homework until we hear from them again.”

Following the moratorium, the spacecraft will send any remaining data to NASA’s deep space network, which is managed by JPL.

NASA engineers will spend a week downloading the data before normal spacecraft operations can resume.

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