NASA stopped communication with its explorer robots, but it does not mean that it is the end of their long-standing collaboration.
As in any relationship, sometimes the parties have to separate if a third party begins to get involved and threatens to interfere with healthy communication between them; In this case, it turns out to be the Sun.
NASA explained that every two years it cuts transmission with its fleet of Mars robots for two weeks, as Earth and Mars are placed on opposite sides of the Sun, and the large fireball blocks the signals.
This year, the loss of communication will occur between November 11 and 25, after which NASA and the robots will resume contact until the Sun interferes again in a few years.
The robots include the Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, the Ingenuity Mars helicopter, and a series of orbiters called the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Odyssey, and MAVEN.
The exploration mission is on pause due to the hot ionized gas that the Sun expels, as it could cause alterations in radio signals between NASA and its Mars robots. This interruption is known as the “solar conjunction of Mars.”
While NASA could easily capture the signals sent—since the missing data altered by the Sun could be recovered after Earth and Mars align again—it is too risky for robots because they could receive fragmented instructions that could put the mission in danger.
However, even though the signals are off, the robots are not easily released from further operation.
The space program detailed that, before the Sun blocks the signal, NASA sends a to-do list to its robots, who are instructed to monitor changes in surface conditions, weather and radiation while parked.
NASA mentioned that they may receive performance monitoring updates from their robot fleet, but there will be two full days of silence once Mars is completely behind the Sun’s disk.
While the communication pause occurs, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory revealed that they usually catch up on other pending tasks or take a well-deserved break.
Translation of Michelle Padilla