NASA’s Insight Lander Aimed For Mars Fires Its Thrusters For The First Time

Posted: May 26 2018, 4:39am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

NASA’s Insight Lander aimed for Mars Fires its Thrusters for the First Time
Credit: NASA

Deep Exploration Lander Corrects its Trajectory to Reach Mars on Schedule.

Nasa’s program INSIGHT is aimed to explore deep interior parts of the red planet, Mars. ‘INSIGHT’ is an abbreviation for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

InSight is developed by Lockheed Martin; its design is inspired by Phoenix Lander, a successful lander that was designed and used by NASA on earlier missions. The Insight lander will remain operative on the Mars surface for around two years, or in other words, one Martian year, due to its distance from Sun one year on mars is 687 days long.

This mission is NASA’s first attempt into exploring the deep interior surface of Mars.

"The goal of InSight is nothing less than to better understand the birth of the Earth, the birth of the planet we live on, and we're going to do that by going to Mars," said Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator of the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport -- Insight Lander Spacecraft InSight -- mission.

According to NASA scientists, earth is a very active planet so its quite impossible to discover what changes took place during last millions of years, whereas Mars is an inactive planet and studying its interiors will help scientists uncover what changes might have happened on earth during the past.

"How we get from a ball of featureless rock into a planet that may or may not support life is a key question," he said. "And these processes that do this all happen in the first few tens of millions of years. We'd like to be able to understand what happened, and the clues to that are in the structure of the planet that gets set up in these early years."

But Earth is very active, and much of the early geologic record has been destroyed by continental drift and the churning of the mantle. As a result, "we're kind of at a loss to see, on the Earth, what's the evidence for what happened in those early years," Banerdt said.

On May 5, the lander was launched using Atlas V 401 rockets, for safe transport to outer space, the lander was enclosed in a protective aeroshell and attached at the top of the Atlas rocket. The launch event took place at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California.

Rockets are only used to get the spacecraft out of Earth’s orbit; it requires a lot of energy to overcome earth’s gravitational pull and perform entry in the space. Once in space, the rockets are detached from the space craft, and the spacecraft does all the maneuvering by itself using their thrusters, such maneuvers are required to keep them on the right track to the planned destination.

In total, during its journey to Mars, the will be making six such trajectory correction maneuvers.

"This first maneuver is the largest we'll conduct," said Fernando Abilleira of JPL, InSight's Deputy Mission Design and Navigation Manager. "The thrusters will fire for about 40 seconds to impart a velocity change of 3.8 meters per second [8.5 mph] to the spacecraft. That will put us in the right ballpark as we aim for Mars."

Before sending any device on an outer planet, every hardware that would reach Mars was thoroughly cleaned, this was a precaution to avoid earth’s microbes’ entry into the atmosphere of the planet Mars. Such precaution is not necessary for the rocket as it never reaches the surface of the other planet. Most rockets have different stages; the initial stages fall back on earth, and get burned during their entry into earth’s atmosphere, while others keep orbiting in the space.

Communication between the spacecraft and NASA control center is made possible by NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN), antennas installed at three different locations on earth relay information back and forth from the spacecraft. Nasa control center precisely measures the position and course of the spacecraft and sends instructions for navigation corrections.

"Navigation is all about statistics, probability and uncertainty," Abilleira said. "As we gather more information on the forces acting on the spacecraft, we can better predict how it's moving and how future maneuvers will affect its path."

This Mars Insight Lander has a total of eight thrusters; four of them are used for course correction, while the other four are responsible for keeping the antennas and solar panels in the right direction.

"Everyone has been working hard since the launch to assess what these small forces have done to the trajectory," said Allen Halsell of JPL, InSight's navigation team chief. "People have worked lots of hours to look at that. For engineers, it's a very interesting problem, and fun to try to figure out."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/2" rel="author">Luigi Lugmayr</a>
Manfred "Luigi" Lugmayr () is the founding Chief Editor of I4U News and brings over 25 years experience in the technology field to the ever evolving and exciting world of gadgets, tech and online shopping. He started I4U News back in 2000 and evolved it into vibrant technology news and tech and toy shopping hub.
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