NASA’s Next Mars Lander Will Study The Interior Of The Red Planet

Posted: Aug 31 2017, 3:51am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA’s Next Mars Lander will Study the Interior of the Red Planet
Credit: NASA

NASA's InSight lander is scheduled to launch May 2018

In the preparations for NASA’s next mission to Mars, new robotic lander is being assembled and tested in Lockheed Martian Space Systems. The lander, named InSight, is scheduled to launch May next year and will drill into the surface to investigate the interior structure of the Red Planet.

“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, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport, was originally planned to launch in March 2016 but a leak in its prime science instrument prompted NASA to postpone the mission and to announce a new date for its departure. The lander is equipped with a seismometer and a heat-flow probe and is based on the design of NASA's successful Phoenix Mars lander that successfully arrived at Mars in May 2008 and went on to study the surface and near-surface environment of high northern area of Mars.

InSight is the first mission aiming to explore the deep interior of Mars and it will help researchers understand how rocky planets – including Earth – formed and evolved.

"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.” InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.

For InSight, the new launch window began May 2018 with the lander is expected to reach Mars on Nov. 26, 2018. The probe will take place near Mars equator. Within weeks after the landing, the lander that spans about 20 feet will use a robotic arm to drill beneath the Martian surface and to place its two main instruments directly inside the ground. The two instruments involved in the mission are seismometer, supplied by France's space agency, CNES and a heat probe, provided by the German Aerospace Center, DLR that can hammer itself to a depth of 10 feet or more and measure the amount of energy coming from the planet's deep interior.

Seismometer is designed to measure ground movements as small as the diameter of an atom but it requires a vacuum seal around its three main sensors to withstand the harsh conditions of the Martian environment.

A leak that previously detected in the seismometer and led to the suspension of the mission was repaired and tested. The full instrument was delivered to the Lockheed Martin spacecraft assembly facility in Colorado in July and installed on the lander.

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

With the upcoming Mars 2020 rover being designed and built, the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers exploring the Martian surface, unscrewed missions are clearly the way forward for the Mars exploration.

“Mars retains evidence about the rocky planets' early development that has been erased on Earth by internal churning Mars lacks,” said Bruce Banerdt. “Gaining information about the core, mantle and crust of Mars is a high priority for planetary science, and InSight was built to accomplish this."

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