NASA's InSight lander on Mars goes silent as power runs low

InSight's 'final selfie' of April 24, 2022 shows a solar-powered lander caked in Martian dust.
NASA's InSight Mars lander did not respond to communications on Dec. 18, 2022 as it battles dwindling power levels from Martian dust. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A NASA lander that is fighting for survival on Mars has gone silent. 

NASA lost contact with its Mars InSight lander (opens in new tab) on Sunday (Dec. 18) after the spacecraft failed to respond to communications from its control team. InSight, which has been studying quakes on Mars (opens in new tab) since 2018, is suffering from power issues due to dust buildup on its solar arrays.

"The lander's power has been declining for months, as expected, and it's assumed InSight may have reached its end of operations," NASA wrote in an update (opens in new tab) Monday (Dec. 19). "It's unknown what prompted the change in its energy; the last time the mission contacted the spacecraft was on Dec. 15, 2022."

Related: NASA's InSight Mars lander: 10 surprising facts

NASA reported the lost contact with InSight one day after sharing what might be the last photo from the Mars lander, a view that showed the Martian horizon with the probe's seismometer, robotic arm and other gear in view. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California oversees the mission.

"My power's really low, so this may be the last image I can send," the InSight lander team wrote on Twitter (opens in new tab) Monday while sharing the image. "Don't worry about me, though: my time here has been both productive and serene."

This photo shows the full image of Mars from NASA's InSight Mars lander released on Dec. 19, 2022. It may be the final photo the lander ever beams home. (Image credit: NASA/JPL)

NASA launched the InSight lander to Mars in May 2018 on a two-year mission to study the interior of the Red Planet with a seismometer and heat probe. While the heat probe, which was supposed to drill a few meters beneath the Martian surface, never reached its target depth, the seismometer wowed scientists with over 1,300 detections of marsquakes. The $814 million mission was ultimately extended until December 2022, and last week scientists announced that InSight had detected its strongest marsquake yet

While NASA engineers work to restore communications with InSight, its looming end was an open secret. In May, NASA announced that the end was coming for InSight due to the dwindling amount of power its dust-caked solar arrays were generating at the time. As of November, the spacecraft was generating just 20% of the power it had when it landed on Mars in November 2018. 

"The mission will continue to try and contact InSight," NASA added in its Monday update.

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik (opens in new tab). Follow us @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab)Facebook (opens in new tab) and Instagram (opens in new tab).

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Tariq Malik
Editor-in-Chief

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award (opens in new tab) for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast (opens in new tab) with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network (opens in new tab). To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik (opens in new tab).

  • Exanimus
    Why can't they use the drone to blow off some dust from the solar panels so it will start charging up again?
    Reply
  • COLGeek
    Distance. See here:

    https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/images/pia25412-mars-dust-storm-in-relation-to-insight-curiosity-and-perseverance
    Reply
  • Pogo
    Exanimus said:
    Why can't they use the drone to blow off some dust from the solar panels so it will start charging up again?
    Incorrect probe. The helicopter is with Perserverence, not InSight.
    Reply
  • Pogo
    They need to install windshield wipers on the solar panels on these things, or articulate the panels so they can turn over and dump the dust.
    Reply