Listening for the Phoenix

Phoenix Lander Amid Disappearing Spring Ice

The Mars Odyssey orbiter will be listening for radio signals from the Mars Phoenix Lander. Having ceased communications near the end of 2008 with the onset of the Martian winter, the Phoenix lander is extremely unlikely to have survived, but if it somehow manages to come back to life with the start of the Martian spring, it will be sending out signals that Odyssey should be able to pick up. The Phoenix lander was not designed to survive the Martian winter, so it would be extremely impressive if Odyssey picks up signals from the lander: it really would be like a phoenix in more ways than one (the other way being a resurrection of a cancelled Martian lander project).

There most likely won't be any signals from the Phoenix lander, though, but this is still an opportunity to remember the impressive achievements it made.

A farewell to Phoenix

The Mars Phoenix Lander
The Mars Phoenix Lander

Due to decreasing sunlight and worsening weather conditions, the Mars Phoenix Lander has finally ceased communications. Given that the lander started to cycle into safe mode only a little while ago, where it put itself into a mode that turned most of itself off in order to conserve power except to send regular signals, it's not too surprising that it has ceased communications. In fact, it's incredibly impressive that the little lander has lasted far longer than its original 90-day mission.

Continue reading "A farewell to Phoenix"

Phoenix winding down

The Mars Phoenix Lander has started to shut itself down as the Martian winter approaches. With the days becoming shorter, it's getting less and less power from its solar panels that powers its electronics and its five heaters. To conserve power, it has shut down operation of its first survival heater, which had been keeping some of the lander's electronics within a reasonable temperature range.

All except one of the survival heaters will be switched off one by one as the available power decreases, with more and more instruments being exposed to temperature extremes. NASA will be stretching it out as much as possible to keep the lander operational. However, we are already seeing operations deteriorate as a power fault has forced the lander to switch to using backup systems.

Two ovens to go


As the sun is steadily getting lower around the north pole of Mars, the Mars Phoenix Lander has managed to scoop soil into its sixth oven out of the eight that came with TEGA, the thermal and evolved-gas analyzer. Now there are two ovens left, and hopefully the lander will be able to make use of them before the sun drops below the horizon for the winter. Meanwhile, the lander would also serve as a weather station observing snow falling and clouds in the sky. And what is going on with the mystery of the unexpectedly dry Martian soil?