Why isn’t there a device to clean the solar panels on Mars rovers?

From the February 2024 difficulty

Engineers actually may design such a system, however including it could require sacrificing area or weight meant for science.

Inevitably, Mars rovers or landers get coated with mud and the photo voltaic panels now not perform, ending the mission. Why doesn’t NASA construct in a mechanism to scrub the photo voltaic panels?

Mike Hunnicutt
Woodridge, Illinois

It is a nice query and to me, no less than, the reply is in no way apparent.

It’s not that NASA engineers can’t design a brush or a wiper or an air-blasting system to scrub mud off photo voltaic panels or different Mars rover or lander elements — that form of engineering isn’t rocket science! The difficulty actually is concerning the constraints on deep-space missions; many engineers refer to those constraints because the “useful resource field.” That’s, all missions are constrained to suit right into a metaphorical field outlined by assets like mass, bodily dimensions, energy, schedule, information quantity, and value. The scale of the field will depend on many components, like which rocket will launch the mission and what finances is obtainable to the workforce. And whereas the assets will be moved round and traded contained in the field, the entire system can’t go “out of the field.”

So, for instance, if a workforce needs so as to add a mud wiper blade to a rover photo voltaic panel, the engineers will say, “Positive, we will do this! However what do you wish to commerce to accommodate the mass, quantity, energy wants, and value of that wiper system?” Hmm… Would the workforce be OK, for instance, buying and selling a backup radio transmitter for that wiper system? Or dropping one of many science devices for it? In my expertise, we’ve determined to not make such trades as a result of we felt assured that the rovers may survive their required minimal lifetime even with dusty photo voltaic panels. And, whereas debatable, to most of us concerned that seems to have been a suitable commerce for missions like Spirit, Alternative, Perception, and others.

We regularly hear about individuals or teams being praised for considering “outdoors the field.” However in deep-space mission methods engineering, the secret is really to attempt to maximize science whereas staying inside the (useful resource) field!

Jim Bell
Principal Investigator for Mars 2020 Mastcam-Z, Deputy Principal Investigator for Science for Mars Science Laboratory Mastcam, Arizona State College, Tempe, Arizona


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