Science

Perseverance rover’s wind sensor damaged by pebbles but still working

It turns out that Mars is terribly windy.

The Perseverance rover landed on the Red Planet in February 2021, carrying, among other things, a weather station dubbed the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA). This instrument includes two wind sensors that measure speed and direction, as well as several other sensors that provide weather indicators such as humidity, radiation, and air temperature.

A pebble kicked up by strong gusts of wind on the Red Planet recently damaged one of the wind sensors, but MEDA is still able to track the wind in the Jezero crater landing area, albeit with reduced sensitivity, MEDA principal investigator José Antonio Rodriguez Manfredi told Space. com.

Related: 1 year later, Ingenuity helicopter still hangs on Mars

“Currently, the sensor’s capabilities are limited, but it still provides speed and direction values,” Rodríguez Manfredi, a scientist at the Spanish Astrobiological Center in Madrid, wrote in an email. “The entire team is now reconfiguring the search procedure to get more accurate readings from an intact detector.”

According to the materials, the two roughly ruler-sized wind sensors on Perseverance are surrounded by six separate sensors that should give accurate readings from any direction. (will open in a new tab) from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, which operates the rover.

Each of the two main wind sensors is attached to an arm that can deploy to move the sensors away from the rover as it moves, because the car-sized Perseverance does influence wind currents as it moves through the thin Martian atmosphere, JPL said. .

The Perseverance rover deploys one of its wind sensors on the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) during a hands-on exercise on Earth in 2019. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Like all instruments on Perseverance, the wind sensor was designed with redundancy and protection in mind, said Rodriguez Manfredi. But, of course, there is a limit to everything.

And for an instrument like MEDA, the constraint is more complex, as the sensors must be exposed to environmental conditions in order to record wind parameters. But when stronger-than-expected winds kicked up larger-than-expected pebbles, the combination caused damage to some elements of the detector.

“Neither the forecasts, nor the experience we gained from previous missions, foresaw such strong winds, nor such a large amount of loose material of this kind,” said Rodriguez Manfredi. (He is also the principal investigator for another temperature and wind sensor on NASA’s InSight lander, which has been on the Red Planet since November 2018 and is expected to complete its mission this year.)

He added that, ironically, the sensors were damaged by the wind, or “exactly what we were looking for.”

Perseverance landed on Mars on February 29th. On December 18, 2021, and with an Ingenuity helicopter, they are exploring an ancient river delta that may have been rich in microbes billions of years ago.

In addition to measuring wind, weather and rock composition, the rover is collecting the most promising material to cache for a future sample return mission that aims to send samples back to Earth in the 2030s.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or Facebook.

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