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NASA’s Next Mars Mission to Investigate Interior of Red Planet

Artist’s Concept of InSight Lander on Mars

Update March 9, 2016: NASA has set a new launch opportunity, beginning May 5, 2018, for the InSight mission to Mars. InSight is the first mission dedicated to investigating the deep interior of Mars. The findings will advance understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved. This artist’s concept depicts the InSight lander on Mars after the lander’s robotic arm has deployed a seismometer and a heat probe directly onto the ground.

This artist’s concept from August 2015 depicts NASA’s InSight Mars lander fully deployed for studying the deep interior of Mars. This illustration updates the correct placement and look of Insight’s main instruments. For an earlier artist rendition.

InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, will investigate processes that formed and shaped Mars. Its findings will improve understanding about the evolution of our inner solar system’s rocky planets, including Earth.

The lander will be the first mission to permanently deploy instruments directly onto Martian ground using a robotic arm. The two instruments to be placed into a work area in front of the lander are a seismometer (contributed by the French space agency Centre National d’Études Spatiales, or CNES) to measure the microscopic ground motions from distant marsquakes providing information about the interior structure of Mars, and a heat-flow probe (contributed by the German Aerospace Center, or DLR) designed to hammer itself 3 to 5 meters (about 16 feet) deep and monitor heat coming from the planet’s interior. The mission will also track the lander’s radio to measure wobbles in the planet’s rotation that relate to the size of its core and a suite of environmental sensors to monitor the weather and variations in the magnetic field. Two cameras will aid in instrument deployment and monitoring the local environment.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is building and testing the spacecraft.

Figure 1 is an annotated version of the illustration, with the following features labeled:

• Grapple — Mechanism at the end of the IDA that grips the instruments during deployment
• Heat Flow Probe — Hammering mechanism that pulls the temperature sensors down into the regolith
• HP3 — Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, the heat flow experiment
• IDC — Instrument Deployment Camera, pointable medium-resolution camera
• IDA — Instrument Deployment Arm
• ICC — Instrument Context Camera, fixed wide-angle camera
• Pressure Inlet — Wind-shielded opening for pressure sensor
• RISE Antenna — X-band radio antenna for the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment
• SEIS — Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, the seismometer
• Tethers — Cables carrying electrical power, commands and data between the lander and instruments
• TWINS — Temperature and Winds for InSight, environmental sensors
• UHF Antenna — Antenna used for communication with orbital relay spacecraft
• WTS — Wind and Thermal Shield protecting the seismometer from the environment

InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program of competitively selected solar system exploration missions with highly focused scientific goals. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Discovery Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages InSight for the NASA Science Mission Directorate.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

NASA’s Next Mars Mission to Investigate Interior of Red Planet

Preparation of NASA’s next spacecraft to Mars, InSight, has ramped up this summer, on course for launch next May from Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California — the first interplanetary launch in history from America’s West Coast.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems is assembling and testing the InSight spacecraft in a clean room facility near Denver. “Our team resumed system-level integration and test activities last month,” said Stu Spath, spacecraft program manager at Lockheed Martin. “The lander is completed and instruments have been integrated onto it so that we can complete the final spacecraft testing including acoustics, instrument deployments and thermal balance tests.”

InSight is the first mission to focus on examining the deep interior of Mars. Information gathered will boost understanding of how all rocky planets formed, including Earth.

“Because the interior of Mars has churned much less than Earth’s in the past three billion years, Mars likely preserves evidence about rocky planets’ infancy better than our home planet does,” said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. He leads the international team that proposed the mission and won NASA selection in a competition with 27 other proposals for missions throughout the solar system. The long form of InSight’s name is Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

Whichever day the mission launches during a five-week period beginning May 5, 2018, navigators have charted the flight to reach Mars the Monday after Thanksgiving in 2018.

 

Spacecraft Coming out of Protective Storage

Members of the InSight mission’s assembly, test and launch operations (ATLO) team remove the “birdcage” from NASA’s InSight spacecraft, in this photo taken June 19, 2017, in a Lockheed Martin clean room facility in Littleton, Colorado. The birdcage is the inner layer of protective housing that shielded the spacecraft while in storage following a postponement of launch. It is made of a film that dissipates electrostatic conditions to protect the spacecraft from contamination.

The InSight mission (for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is scheduled to launch in May 2018 and land on Mars Nov. 26, 2018. It will investigate processes that formed and shaped Mars and will help scientists better understand the evolution of our inner solar system’s rocky planets, including Earth.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

 

 

The mission will place a stationary lander near Mars’ equator. With two solar panels that unfold like paper fans, the lander spans about 20 feet (6 meters). Within weeks after the landing — always a dramatic challenge on Mars — InSight will use a robotic arm to place its two main instruments directly and permanently onto the Martian ground, an unprecedented set of activities on Mars. These two instruments are:

— A seismometer, supplied by France’s space agency, CNES, with collaboration from the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Germany. Shielded from wind and with sensitivity fine enough to detect ground movements half the diameter of a hydrogen atom, it will record seismic waves from “marsquakes” or meteor impacts that reveal information about the planet’s interior layers.

— A heat probe, designed to hammer itself to a depth of 10 feet (3 meters) or more and measure the amount of energy coming from the planet’s deep interior. The heat probe is supplied by the German Aerospace Center, DLR, with the self-hammering mechanism from Poland.

A third experiment will use radio transmissions between Mars and Earth to assess perturbations in how Mars rotates on its axis, which are clues about the size of the planet’s core.

Hoisting NASA’s InSight Lander

The Mars lander portion of NASA’s InSight spacecraft is lifted from the base of a storage container in preparation for testing, in this photo taken June 20, 2017, in a Lockheed Martin clean room facility in Littleton, Colorado.

InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program of competitively selected solar system exploration missions with highly focused scientific goals. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Discovery Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages InSight for the NASA Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

 

The spacecraft’s science payload also is on track for next year’s launch. The mission’s launch was originally planned for March 2016, but was called off due to a leak into a metal container designed to maintain near-vacuum conditions around the seismometer’s main sensors. A redesigned vacuum vessel for the instrument has been built and tested, then combined with the instrument’s other components and tested again. The full seismometer instrument was delivered to the Lockheed Martin spacecraft assembly facility in Colorado in July and has been installed on the lander.

“We have fixed the problem we had two years ago, and we are eagerly preparing for launch,” said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman, of JPL.

The best planetary geometry for launches to Mars occurs during opportunities about 26 months apart and lasting only a few weeks.

JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the InSight Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Together with two active NASA Mars rovers, three NASA Mars orbiters and a Mars rover being built for launch in 2020, InSight is part of a legacy of robotic exploration that is helping to lay the groundwork for sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.

Cruise Stage of NASA’s InSight Spacecraft

Lockheed Martin spacecraft specialists check the cruise stage of NASA’s InSight spacecraft in this photo taken June 22, 2017, in a Lockheed Martin clean room facility in Littleton, Colorado. The cruise stage will provide vital functions during the flight from Earth to Mars, and then will be jettisoned before the InSight lander, enclosed in its aeroshell, enters Mars’ atmosphere.

The InSight mission (for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is scheduled to launch in May 2018 and land on Mars Nov. 26, 2018. It will investigate processes that formed and shaped Mars and will help scientists better understand the evolution of our inner solar system’s rocky planets, including Earth.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

Bench Checkout of InSight’s Seismometer Instrument

The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument for NASA’s InSight mission to Mars undergoes a checkout for the spacecraft’s assembly, test and launch operations (ATLO) in this photo taken July 20, 2017, in a Lockheed Martin clean room facility in Littleton, Colorado. The SEIS was provided by France’s national space agency (CNES) with collaboration from the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Germany.

The InSight mission (for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is scheduled to launch in May 2018 and land on Mars Nov. 26, 2018. It will investigate processes that formed and shaped Mars and will help scientists better understand the evolution of our inner solar system’s rocky planets, including Earth.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

Mars Lander Deck of NASA’s InSight Mission

This view looks upward toward the InSight Mars lander suspended upside down. It shows the top of the lander’s science deck with the mission’s two main science instruments — the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3) — plus the robotic arm and other subsystems installed. The photo was taken Aug. 9, 2017, in a Lockheed Martin clean room facility in Littleton, Colorado.

The InSight mission (for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is scheduled to launch in May 2018 and land on Mars Nov. 26, 2018. It will investigate processes that formed and shaped Mars and will help scientists better understand the evolution of our inner solar system’s rocky planets, including Earth.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

 

source: NASA – Jet Propulsion Laboratory – California Institute of Technology

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