NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has ended operations after repeated attempts to contact the spacecraft were unsuccessful. A new image transmitted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows signs of severe ice damage to the lander’s solar panels. “The Phoenix spacecraft succeeded in its investigations and exceeded its planned lifetime,” said Fuk Li, manager of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Although its work is finished, analysis of information from Phoenix’s science activities will continue for some time to come.” Earth-based research continues on discoveries Phoenix made during summer conditions at the far-northern site where it landed May 25, 2008. The solar-powered lander completed its three-month mission and kept working until sunlight waned two months later.
Experts hold out slim hopes that hard-working NASA robot didn’t freeze to death during Martian winter, but NASA is making one final effort to detect signs of life in the dormant Phoenix Mars Lander. This week marks NASA’s fourth attempt to listen for signals showing that the Mars Lander did not perish during the frigid — and long — Martian winter. The Mars Odyssey made similar attempts in January, February and April of this year. NASA scientists received the last transmission from the Lander on Nov. 2, 2008.
NASA’s Mars Odyssey yesterday began sending out radio signals for a last time in the hopes that the robotic Lander will pick them up and respond. Through Friday, the orbiter will make 61 flights this week high over the Mars Lander’s site on the Martian surface.
“To be thorough, we decided to conduct this final session around the time of the summer solstice, during the best thermal and power conditions for Phoenix,” said Chad Edwards, chief telecommunications engineer for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, in a statement.
It looks like it really is the end for NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, which spent five months digging in the Martian arctic before succumbing to the icy winter conditions that set in at the end of its mission.
The third and final attempt to listen for any signs of survival from the lander, conducted last week, didn’t turn up a peep.
Phoenix landed on Mars on May 25, 2008, and operated successfully in the Martian arctic for about two months longer than its planned three-month mission, which confirmed the presence of water ice under the Martian surface. But once the sun and temperatures dropped and winter set in, the spacecraft didn’t have enough power to keep going. The lander went silent in November 2008.
No sign of Phoenix lander during three days of listening Spaceflight Now
NASA says they heard no signals from the Phoenix lander this week during 30 communications passes over the probe’s icy landing site, an expected outcome because the craft was never designed to survive the dark and cold Martian winter. The Odyssey orbiter circling Mars listened for potential radio signals from Phoenix 30 times over three days this week. NASA announced late Thursday that Odyssey did not detect any communications from Phoenix.
“After all their tries so far, they haven’t recovered it yet,” said Peter Smith, the Phoenix mission’s principal investigator at the University of Arizona.
Officials cautioned the odds of hearing anything from Phoenix were very slim because the lander was not designed to weather the bone-chilling temperatures and months of darkness during winter on Mars’ northern polar plains.
NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander lived up to its name – rising from the ashes of an earlier failed Mars landing attempt to go on to a successful mission. But now the Mars-bound probe has a chance to rise from the dead itself.
Touching down in the martian northern plains on May 25, 2008, Phoenix exceeded its original three-month mission, lasting five months and, quite literally, dug up a number of scientific findings including – perhaps – liquid water.
Eventually Phoenix succumbed to the bitterly cold winter on Mars.
But now scientists are warming up to the prospect of re-establishing contact with Phoenix.
There’s hope that Lockheed Martin’s Mars lander Phoenix might spring back to life Denver Business Journal
The slight warming of temperatures Wednesday may have gotten some Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. workers thinking about the Phoenix lander on Mars that they built.
The NASA probe created at the company’s Littleton headquarters has been frozen in wintry Martian conditions that make this week’s sub-zero lows around Denver seem balmy.
NASA stopped listening for signals from the solar-powered Phoenix a year ago amid round-the-clock darkness in the Martian arctic and cold that’s typically minus 195 degrees. Phoenix (website) was covered with frozen carbon dioxide — “dry ice” — that falls as snow and occurs as frost in the Martian winter.
Spring started on the red planet Oct. 26, and there’s hope Phoenix will reawaken when longer, sunnier days return by mid-January. (Seasons on Mars last twice as long as they do on Earth.)
Scientists with NASA’s IceBite project are heading this week for University Valley, a hanging valley perched more than 1600 feet (more than 1 mile) above sea level in Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys. Their objective: to test a set of ice-penetrating drills and select one for use on a future mission to the Martian polar north, the same region of the planet that NASA’s Phoenix lander investigated in 2008.
The northern polar region on Mars is of particular interest to scientists because it once may have provided a habitable environment for life. Due to variations over time in Mars’ orbit and the angle at which it tilts toward the sun, Mars’ north pole received much more sunlight several million years ago than it does today — enough sunlight to produce liquid water, enough liquid water to support life. Indeed NASA’s Phoenix lander found evidence in Martian arctic soil that liquid water had been present there in the past.
The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured winter images of NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander surrounded by dry-ice frost on Mars.
As the sun began to reappear on the horizon following the deepest, darkest days of north polar winter on Mars, the HiRISE camera imaged the Phoenix landing site on July 30, 2009, (left image) and in Aug. 22, 2009 (right).
The sun was only 1 degree above the horizon when the July image was taken at approximately 2 p.m. local Martian time. In the August image the sun was six degrees above the horizon when the image was taken at about 1:44 p.m., Martian time.
By matching up the images with the known location of the Lander, the HiRISE team identified the hardware, disguised by frost, despite the fact that the views were hindered by poor lighting and atmospheric haze, which often obscures the Martian surface at this location and season.
Wind speeds and directions were measured for the first time in the Mars polar region using the Phoenix lander’s Telltale instrument. Astronomers recorded Easterly winds of approximately 15-20 kilometers per hour during the Martian mid-summer. When autumn approached, the winds increased and switched round to come predominantly from the West.
Blobs in Photos of Mars Lander Stir a Debate: Are They Water? The New York Times
Several photographs taken by NASA’s Phoenix Mars spacecraft show what look like water droplets clinging to one of its landing struts. Some of the scientists working on the mission are asserting that that is exactly what they were. They contend that there are pockets of liquid water just under the Martian surface even though the temperatures in the northern plains never warmed above minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit during the six months of Phoenix’s operations last year.
The scientists believe that salts may have lowered the freezing temperature of the Martian water droplets to perhaps minus 90 degrees, or more than 120 degrees colder than the usual freezing temperature of 32 degrees for pure water.
Nilton O. Renno, a professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at the University of Michigan who proposed the hypothesis, was careful to say, “This is not a proof.”
But he added: “I think the evidence is overwhelming. It’s not circumstantial evidence.”