Monday, November 2, 2015

NASA’s InSight Mars Lander on Track for March 2016 Launch

This artist's concept depicts the stationary NASA Mars lander known by the acronym InSight at work studying the interior of Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s next Mars mission, the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander is taking shape for the planned launch in March 2016. The spacecraft, dedicated to study the Red Planet’s deep interior is now fully assembled and on track for the liftoff atop a United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V booster. The mission will be launched from the Space Launch Complex 3 (SLC-3) at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

“The lander has been fully assembled and is in its testing phase. We have finished all the major environments tests and are currently working through operational testing,” William "Bruce" Banerdt, InSight Principal Investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), told

The series of tests will help ensure that InSight can operate during a deep space travel and can survive the harsh conditions on Mars. The testing includes exposing the lander to extreme temperatures and vacuum conditions of nearly zero air pressure simulating interplanetary space. Other tests feature vibrations simulating launch and checking for electronic interference between different parts of the spacecraft.

The lander is equipped with two main geophysical instruments that will investigate Mars’ interior structure and geological processes. The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) will conduct precise measurements of quakes and other internal activity, while the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) will burrow up to 16 ft. into the Martian subsurface, deeper than all previous drills and probes. The spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, is based on NASA’s Phoenix mission that successfully studied ground ice near the north pole of Mars in 2008. It has a mass of 770 lbs. and is18 ft long when the solar panels are deployed.

By using the lander’s scientific payload, the scientists hope to learn valuable information about the evolution of rocky planets, studying processes that shaped Mars. They also plan to determine the present level of tectonic activity and meteorite impact rate on the Red Planet. NASA predicts to acquire more than 29 Gb of seismic data during the first year of science operations.

“We expect to be able to determine the basic structure of the planet: the thickness and layering of the crust, the composition and stratification of the mantle, and the size, composition and state [solid vs. liquid] of the core. We will also measure the amount of heat escaping from the interior as well as the level of seismic activity and the rate of meteorite impacts,” Banerdt said.

Amidst some technical issues with the payload, the spacecraft is currently on track for the launch in March 2016.

“We are still on track for a launch next March, although we are still working on some technical issues with the payload,” Banerdt revealed.

InSight will be launched between 4-30 March, 2016 and is set to arrive on the Martian surface on Sept. 28, 2016. It is designed to operate on the Red Planet for two years.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages InSight for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

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