February 12, 2009

Martian winds help Earth’s rover Spirit

Martian wind guests have removed some dust from the U.S. space agency's Mars rover Spirit, increasing its electrical output, NASA says.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists said the cleaning boosts Spirit's daily energy supply to about 240 watt-hours from 210 watt-hours. The rover uses approximately 180 watt-hours daily for basic survival and communications.

The energy increase roughly doubles the amount of the rover's discretionary power, NASA said.

We will be able to use this energy to do significantly more driving, said Colette Lohr, a rover mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Our drives have been averaging about 50 minutes, and energy has usually been the limiting factor. We may be able to increase that to drives of an hour and a half.

Spirit has driven about 30 feet since maneuvering around a rock that temporarily blocked its progress on Jan. 31. NASA said the goal now is to navigate over or around a low plateau called Home Plate to get to an area targeted for scientific studies.

Spirit and its twin rover, Opportunity, have been operating on Mars for more than five years in exploration missions originally planned to last for three months.