For the scientists, that ends a mission of unexpected endurance. The rover was designed to last only three months. Opportunity provided scientists a close-up view of Mars that they had never seen: finely layered rocks that preserved ripples of flowing water several billion years ago, a prerequisite for life.
For the moment, all Esa has to work with is the relatively large volume of engineering data Schiaparelli managed to transmit back to the “mothership” that dropped it off at Mars – the Trace Gas Orbiter.
But officials here have tried to emphasise Schiaparelli’s role as a technology demonstrator – a project to give Europe the learning experience and the confidence to go ahead with the landing on Mars in 2021 of an ambitious six-wheeled rover.
Likewise, the laser analyses were done at nine different focus settings to obtain one good set of data. In the meantime, the team went back to the drawing board. They figured out that if they discarded a lot of the old code on board their distant subject, they could make room for software that could command the instrument to take the nine images on its own and analyze them on-board to find the best focus.
The program to run the whole instrument is only 40 kilobytes. The first tests on Mars were completed earlier this week.
It has been written many times in these pages, and it begs repeating: this rover was sent on a 90-day expedition, with the mission success mobility objective of driving 600 meters. In March, Opportunity completed 42.195 kilometers or 26.2 miles. It’s the first marathon “run” on another planet. And in April – the 4000th sol. “This rover just keeps giving and giving,” said Planetary Society President Jim Bell, professor of astronomy and planetary scientist at Arizona State University and lead scientist on the MERs’ panoramic cameras (Pancams).