Who Listens For Phoenix?

Article written: 1 Dec , 2008
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

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Phoenix isn’t merely dead; it’s really most sincerely dead. NASA has now stopped listening for any residual beeps sent by the Phoenix lander with the spacecraft orbiting Mars. After nearly a month of daily checks to listen for any last communications from the lander, the Mars Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have ended their efforts to listen for Phoenix. The final communication from Phoenix remains a brief signal received via Odyssey on Nov. 2. “The variability of the Martian weather was a contributing factor to our loss of communications, and we were hoping that another variation in weather might give us an opportunity to contact the lander again,” said Phoenix Mission Manager Chris Lewicki of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The last attempt to listen for a signal from Phoenix was when Odyssey passed overhead at 3:49 p.m. PST Saturday, Nov. 29 (4:26 p.m. local Mars solar time on the 182nd Martian day, or sol, since Phoenix landed).

And now, a moment of silence…

The Phoenix lander operated for two overtime months after achieving its science goals during its original three-month mission. It landed on a Martian arctic plain on back on May 25.

As expected, reduced daily sunshine eventually left the solar-powered Phoenix craft without enough energy to keep its batteries charged.

The end of efforts to listen for Phoenix with Odyssey and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter had been planned for the start of solar conjunction, when the sun is almost directly between the Earth and Mars. This makes communications between Earth and Mars-orbiting spacecraft difficult, and so they are therefore minimized from now until mid-December.

Nov. 29 was selected weeks ago as the final date for relay monitoring of Phoenix because it provided several weeks to confirm the lander was really most sincerely dead, and it coincided with the beginning of solar conjunction. When they come out of the conjunction period, weather on far-northern Mars will be far colder, and the declining sunshine will have ruled out any chance of hearing from Phoenix.

Source: JPL


11 Responses

  1. Astrofiend says

    It would have been great (not to mention scientifically valuable) to be able to keep observations going heading into the Martian Winter. Just goes to show that solar panels are next to useless. Everything should be on RTG’s.

  2. Phil says

    Obsevations under Kms of Ice? I don’t think the lander had any chance of making it through the winter. I think it was supposed to get covered by ICE as the winter advances.

    Next time I hope they design/bring better ovens.

  3. Oddety says

    The last attempt to listen for a signal from UT.com was like the one before.
    Eventually the reason will prevail and the foolishness be banished.
    Could be the servers are hosted by Phoenix?

  4. Astrofiend says

    # Phil Says:
    December 1st, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    Obsevations under Kms of Ice? I don’t think the lander had any chance of making it through the winter. I think it was supposed to get covered by ICE as the winter advances.

    Next time I hope they design/bring better ovens.

    >>> I don’t think it has a snowballs chance in hell of making it through the winter (or perhaps more appropriately an ember’s chance in a snowstorm?). It most likely will be at least partially covered by ice eventually. However, it is the very observations leading up to this point that would have been so great – monitoring temperature/cloud cover/wind patterns/weather conditions in general as the seasons change and the ice encroaches. Watching for how the ice forms – does it fall as snow? Or is the process more akin to deposition? Is there any unexpected surprises as winter approaches?

    Obviously the lander would have packed it in for good at some point, but that doesn’t mean that observations up until that very instant would not be extremely worth while. In fact, they may have been some of the most interesting results of the entire mission!

  5. Silver Thread says

    Such Irony that a lander named after the fiery Phoenix should succumb to bone numbing cold on a world bereft of fuel. Perhaps in the spring it might arise again from it’s apparent death, but I doubt it.

  6. Paul Eaton-Jones says

    Instead of carping how about a resounding cheer for the machine? Of course there were problems, of course things were over-looked, of course things could/should have been different but for a first attempt it’s been brilliant. Congrats. to the ground crew as well.

  7. Feenixx says

    I enjoyed following the Phoenix – it certainly was better entertainment than the US elections. And it lasted for a lot longer than planned. Thanks to all at NASA, University of Arizona, and, of course, UT

    🙂

    ps: …and I also read somewhere it cost less than one single Shuttle mission…..

  8. Jim Krug says

    I’m going to have to disagree with Paul here. Compared to what the Phoenix was supposed to do, I think it ended up being a costly thud of a mission.

    To land in the proximity of a polar ice cap, and not really be able to give anymore insight one way or the other as to whether there is/was microbial life on Mars?

    Meh.

  9. Frank Glover says

    “To land in the proximity of a polar ice cap, and not really be able to give anymore insight one way or the other as to whether there is/was microbial life on Mars?”

    Well, when you’re not looking for biology, unless something big enough to see, actually walks by your cameras, you’re probably not going to find biology, are you?

    Like Spirit and Opprotunity, this was mostly a geophysical mission that had some biological implications (that is, pinning down the question of where, when and how much water is/was there?)

  10. maudyfish says

    It would be nice if they could build something similar to the rovers that can go to the poles but avoid the harsh winters. Wonder what that would cost?

  11. Feenixx says

    maudyfish Says:

    “It would be nice if they could build something similar to the rovers that can go to the poles but avoid the harsh winters. Wonder what that would cost?”

    Many people, looking from a distance, tend to forget that Mars is a full-size desert planed with no roads and filling stations. You can’t really drive fast enough and far enough to escape the Winter…..

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