NASA has announced that it will temporarily halt communication with its robotic explorers on Mars, including the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This decision is due to the upcoming Mars solar conjunction, a period when Mars, Earth, and the Sun align in a way that disrupts radio signals.
The Mars solar conjunction occurs approximately every two years, and it is scheduled to begin on November 11, 2023, and last until November 25, 2023. During this time, the Sun’s fiery corona will interfere with radio signals sent from Earth to Mars, potentially causing malfunctions or unexpected behavior in the spacecraft.
To prevent any issues, NASA will pause all command transmissions to its Mars missions during the conjunction. However, the rovers, helicopter, and orbiters will continue to operate independently, collecting data and conducting scientific observations.
“The spacecraft will continue to work autonomously,” explained NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manager Roy Gladden. “We have designed them to be able to operate on their own for a short period of time without receiving commands from Earth.”
Perseverance and Curiosity will continue to monitor the Martian environment, including surface conditions, weather, and radiation levels. Ingenuity will remain grounded but will utilize its color camera to study the movement of sand. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey will continue to image the planet’s surface from their orbits.
NASA will also continue to receive health updates from the spacecraft throughout the conjunction, except for two days when Mars will be completely obscured by the Sun. Once the communications pause ends, all pending scientific data collected by the missions will be relayed back to Earth for analysis.
The Mars solar conjunction is a natural phenomenon that NASA has been preparing for, and the temporary pause in communications is a necessary precaution to ensure the safety and continued operation of its robotic explorers. The missions will resume normal operations once the conjunction has passed, and scientists will eagerly await the trove of data collected during this time.