NASA Makes New Attempt To Hail The Opportunity Rover On Mars

NASA will spend the next several weeks beaming a new set of commands to the Opportunity rover in an effort to compel the martian explorer to phone home.

Artist's concept of a rover on Mars.
NASA / JPL / Cornell University

NASA will spend the next several weeks beaming a new set of commands to the Opportunity rover in an effort to compel the martian explorer to phone home.

It’s been a little over seven months since we’ve heard anything from the Opportunity rover on Mars. The robot’s last transmission to Earth occurred on June 10, 2018. Shortly after that, a global dust storm darkened the skies over the rover’s location on the western rim of Perseverance Valley, blocking out the sunlight it requires to charge its batteries.

Since then, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, have constantly tried to get back in touch with the silent rover by employing a variety of techniques.

As the Inquisitr previously reported, the first step was to initiate a 45-day campaign of “active listening,” during which NASA buzzed the rover multiple times a day in an attempt to incite a signal from the stranded robot. Next came the so-called “sweep and beep” strategy, in which engineers sent specific commands to the Opportunity rover to make it respond with a beep.

While all of these efforts seem to have failed, NASA is not ready to give up on its beloved rover. In fact, the space agency is mounting another operation to reconnect with the Mars rover, JPL officials announced earlier today.

According to the new release, NASA will spend the next several weeks beaming a new set of commands to the Opportunity rover in an effort to compel the martian explorer to phone home.

As the JPL explains, the new commands are designed to “address low-likelihood events that could have occurred aboard Opportunity, preventing it from transmitting.” The commands will be relayed via massive antennas similar to the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex — and will provide the rover with the means to “doctor” itself, switching itself back online in the event that its prolonged silence has been caused by specific types of mechanical failures.

“We have and will continue to use multiple techniques in our attempts to contact the rover,” said John Callas, project manager for Opportunity at JPL.

“These new command strategies are in addition to the ‘sweep and beep’ commands we have been transmitting up to the rover since September.”

The new commands will transmit possible remedies, so that the rover can fix itself in case its primary X-band radio — which Opportunity uses to communicate with Earth — has failed. The commands also include a contingency plan for the unlikely scenario that both the rover’s primary and secondary X-band radios have malfunctioned. In addition, the new commands will tell the rover what to do in the event that its internal clock — which provides a time-frame for its computer brain — is subject to errors.

“Over the past seven months we have attempted to contact Opportunity over 600 times,” said Callas.

“While we have not heard back from the rover and the probability that we ever will is decreasing each day, we plan to continue to pursue every logical solution that could put us back in touch.”

The news comes one day after the veteran martian explorer turned 15 years old. The bittersweet anniversary was celebrated by NASA with a Twitter post — and a nod to the science team that has kept the rover running for all of these years.

Should either of the ongoing strategies elicit a response from Opportunity, NASA could attempt to recover the Mars rover. If Opportunity continues to remain silent, then the mission team will plan their next step accordingly.