NASA Attempting to Restore Contact With Mars Opportunity Rover Following Massive Dust Storm

NASA is doing what it can to get the Opportunity rover on Mars to make contact again with Earth. The rover hasn't sent communications back to Earth since June 10, 2018, when a dust storm on Mars overwhelmed it.

Now, NASA engineers are working to hopefully get the rover back in communication with engineers on Earth. Messages to the rover from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are being crafted and sent to the red planet. The new commands are going to be sent out to the rover over the next few weeks, according to NASA, and will hopefully address the events that caused the rover to stop transmitting in the first place.

opportunity rover december 2011
This mosaic of images was taken by NASA Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity during December of 2011. The rover hasn't communicated with NASA since June 2018 when a dust storm hit. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.

What happened exactly is unknown, in part due to the fact that the rover stopped transmitting. So instead of addressing one issue, NASA aims to address several possible issues with its new transmissions.

The first of the three scenarios is that the x-band radio failed, making it impossible for the rover to use it to communicate with Earth. The second scenario is that both the primary and secondary x-band radios failed and the third is that the rovers internal clock was thrown off and it can't provide a timeframe for the rover's computer anymore, according to NASA.

While unlikely, the scenarios are possible, so NASA is sending commands to the rover to switch to its backup radio and to reset the clock in case either of those scenarios did in fact happen.

"These new command strategies are in addition to the 'sweep and beep' commands we have been transmitting up to the rover since September," said Opportunity project manager John Callas, according to NASA.

That method involves sending commands to the rover to respond with a beep, in the hopes that the rover will re-establish communication. If neither of the methods works the engineers will have to reconvene to decide on the next steps.

Though the rover has been without communication since June, it was spotted in an image taken by the Mars orbiter in September. The image shows the little rover in Perseverance Valley on the planet and appears as just a small dot in the photo.

The pressure is on to make contact once again because the dust-clearing season is about to end and Mars is about to enter winter, which could bring cold temperatures that cause damage to the rover.