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Solar panel wipers

Extend the lifetime of expensive planetary probes
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I read today that the two NASA Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity have just completed their fifth year of roaming the planet. However, their future is threatened by a build-up of dust on the photovoltaic panels, reducing the amount of electrical power available to them.
The solution is so obvious that someone at NASA ought to be fired - future rovers should be equipped with a water tank and be able to spray the dust off the solar panels. The water would be kept liquid by a small slug of plutonium in the bottom of the tank.
I can be contacted by the Nobel Prize committee at the email address posted on my profile page.

Alternatively, the panels should be equipped with an ultrasonic shaking anti-dust system similar to those fitted to digital SLR camera sensors.
coprocephalous, Jan 05 2009

Another good reason to shake those panels. http://www.rsc.org/...re-rocking-sunshine
[AbsintheWithoutLeave, Nov 08 2013]

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       could run the two of them together demolition-derby style to knock the dust off... make for good coverage too.
FlyingToaster, Jan 05 2009
  

       Well obviously [FlyingToaster] is going to get that Nobel now.   

       By the way - I'm giving you a bun for the last sentence, which isn't such a terrible idea at first glance.
wagster, Jan 05 2009
  

       to be used once every five years......on projected 90 day missions. like suggesting that you should bring baby toys on a romantic camping trip because you might eventually need them. Nobody really thought they would last this long.
WcW, Jan 05 2009
  

       I remembered an HB idea for something like the Blowfish Tearaways to be used on solar panels, with the idea that they could be peeled off and discarded when dusty. As with the water in a reservoir this too would eventually run out.   

       The vibrator is keen. What about something like those spark guns that use to be used on vinyl LPs to impart a charge and make the dust jump away? That sort of thing would last a long time on Mars.
bungston, Jan 05 2009
  

       I don't know about the wiper thing but here is your bun for making me laugh today.
xkuntay, Jan 05 2009
  

       I know I suggested something like this last year and I got boned for impracticality due to freezing of dirty water on the panels being worse than dust, much like spraying frost on the windshield. Perhaps some other solvent would work better than water.
quantum_flux, Jan 06 2009
  

       Before we get down on the designers lets give them some serious credit for getting so much of it right; taking liquid water to mars is a preposterous idea. I think the vibrator may be a good idea but people need to recognize that the rovers were purpose built devices, not designed to be used in the ways that good fortune (unbelievable luck) has allowed. The deterioration of the solar panels was supposed to closely parallel the damage that the dust would cause to the other systems. Every part of the device will eventually fail if it experiences blowing dust and the designers basically built the rovers to a baseline dust tolerance. Remember that other systems have already failed due to wear and that Spirit would have benefited much more from a system to raise the dragging wheel (which is why it is critically down on power I/R to the solar panel capacity) than a system to wipe the solar panels. NASA deserves some serious credit for the cheaper, better, faster, design model on this mission.
WcW, Jan 06 2009
  

       I have a brief vision of about 1000 years in the future, you can't send a rover anywhere without squeegee men stopping it and wiping its solar panels and then radioing Earth asking for a tip.
phundug, Jan 06 2009
  

       I just want the rover to have a multi purpose arm that can do simple maintenance and repair operations, but it fails the Who Shaves the Barber test as it would be the most failure prone part of the whole thing. If in a thousand years there is anything on mars living enough to demand gratuity i would be very surprised. I'm still waiting for a moldy fung to grow out of the Wolf Trap.
WcW, Jan 06 2009
  

       //fails the Who Shaves the Barber test// [MFT]
quantum_flux, Jan 06 2009
  

       //taking liquid water to mars is a preposterous idea//
Good point - if they'd *really* thought about it, they'd have sent it as oxygen and hydrogen, and used it in a fuel cell, and then they could have used the waste water to clean the solar panels.
coprocephalous, Jan 07 2009
  

       a robot arm with a rag made of non melting material?
pashute, Jul 01 2010
  

       I went to jpl out here once. They say the windstorms have saved them many times over the years. They did not plan for this. It was dumb luck. Seems like a better finish is all they need next time.
fishboner, Aug 24 2010
  

       //a robot arm with a rag made of non melting material?//
Yeah, they hauled that parachute all the way there - may as well make use of it.
AbsintheWithoutLeave, Apr 30 2015
  
      
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