An astronomical phenomenon ensures that contact between NASA and the fleet of rovers and orbiters on Mars is broken in October.
Frankfurt – Mars * is probably the best-researched planet beyond the earth, it is one of the most important goals of large space missions *. For more than 20 years, the US space agency Nasa * has stationed research missions there, the aim of which is to better understand the red planet and find out whether it was once able to harbor life – or whether there is still life there today gives.
Space research * on Mars is often difficult: In addition to the difficult conditions on the planet’s surface (extreme temperatures, radiation that is fatal to humans), there is a delay in communication that is between three to 20 minutes for the one-way route between Mars and Earth and ensures that all vehicles on the Mars surface and orbiters in Mars orbit have to act autonomously on a daily basis.
But about every 26 months an astronomical phenomenon interrupts communication between the earth and the busy research equipment on and around Mars. The red planet is then in conjunction with the sun – this means that Mars is “behind” the sun when viewed from the earth and is not visible for about two weeks. You could still send commands to the Mars rovers and orbiters, but it can happen that data is lost or partially destroyed by the sun. In order to prevent the Mars fleet from being endangered by incorrect commands, NASA therefore stops all communication with Mars for two weeks.
Radio silence between NASA and Mars: red planet disappears behind the sun
In 2021, this radio silence between Mars and Earth will apply to NASA for the period from October 2 to October 14. Before that, however, there was again hectic activity: Data was downloaded again and the rovers and orbiters were prepared for the two-week break in communication with the ground stations. Some instruments will be switched off for this time, the rovers “Perseverance” and “Curiosity” will be parked and the helicopter “Ingenuity” will probably have to remain on the ground.
|The active Mars fleet|
|NASA orbiter 2001 Mars Odyssey||since October 2001|
|Esa-Orbiter Mars Express||since December 2003|
|NASA orbiter Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter||since March 2006|
|Nasa Rover Curiosity||since August 2012|
|Indian Orbiter Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan)||since September 2014|
|NASA orbiter MAVEN t||since September 2014|
|Euro-Russian orbiter ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter||since October 2016|
|NASA Lander Insight||since November 2018|
|NASA Rover Perseverance||since February 2021|
|NASA helicopter Ingenuity||since February 2021|
|Emirati orbiter Emirates Mars Mission (Hope)||since February 2021|
|Chinese orbiter Tianwen-1||since February 2021|
|chinese rover zhurong||since May 2021|
NASA employees have to wait two weeks for signals from Mars
But NASA’s Mars fleet is not completely off work during these two weeks: NASA employees also send commands for the time of the “blackout” to Mars, which the rovers and orbiters are supposed to process during this time. Then the following applies: Wait two weeks until communication is possible again. That sounds risky, but “engineers are now used to leaving their space probes on their own,” says NASA. In fact, many members of NASA’s Mars team use the quiet time even for a few days of vacation, the space agency continues.
If Mars reappears after about two weeks, the Mars fleet sends cached research data to Earth. Large data – such as photos or videos – are usually not recorded during the communication break, as they can hardly be temporarily stored.
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Incidentally, the communication break between Earth and Mars does not only apply to the US space organization Nasa. The European space agency Esa, India, China and the United Arab Emirates are also affected with several orbiters and a rover. (tab) * fr.de is an offer from IPPEN.MEDIA.