Mars InSight Probe touches down

NASA InSight Lander sits atop the Atlas V-401 rocket in the early hours of May 5th, 2018.

It has been an exciting week in science this week. On Monday, November 26th, the Mars InSight Probe landed on Mars to begin its science studies of the interior characteristics of the Red Planet. But the journey started years ago with plans to send a planetary probe that would investigate the inner workings of Mars.

The InSight probe was launched onboard an Atlas V rocket on May 5th, 2018, from Vandenberg Air Force

Base in California, USA. It spent two hundred and five days cruising between Earth and Mars with a set of specific course corrections performed at intervals to ensure a successful landing in the plains of Elysium

The view of Mars from MarCo-B CubeSat as it flew by the Red Planet after the successful landing of the InSight Probe.

Planitia, near Mars’s equator. During the final phase of its flight, the entry, descent and landing phase, InSight Mission Control had some help from two small cubesats  – MarCo (Mars Cube One satellites). The MarCo cubesats relayed information back to NASA much faster than relying solely on the Probe’s communication relays. For more on how the MarCo cubesats helped to successfully track the landing of the InSight probe, visit NASA’s JPL page about the MarCo project.

Dr. Tanya Harrison, an expert in the field of Mars studies, says that the successful use of the MarCo cubesats paves the way for their use in future missions to perform visible and multispectralimaging, communications, magnetometry, gamma ray and neutron spectroscopy, etc. These versatile little satellites help to reduce costs and payload, increasing the potential for space science exploration.

InSight has some interesting instruments onboard that will send back valuable data about the Mars environment, both above ground and below. A seismometer (SEIS) will measure the seismic vibrations of Mars. Its measurements will provide some clues about the planet’s internal activity. The seismometer will sense pulses, or seismic waves, from marsquakes, and meteorite impacts. The data collected will provide valuable information about the composition of Mars, its geological history and, possibly, if there is liquid water, or active volcanoes, below the surface of the planet.

An artist illustration of the InSight lander on Mars.

The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe, HP3 for short, will dig down to almost 16 feet (five meters) below the surface of Mars. Its mission is to search for clues about how much heat is flowing out of the body of the planet, and what the source of the heat is. The probe will help scientists figure out whether Mars is similar in composition to the Earth and our Moon, and also give them a greater understanding of how Mars evolved.

Lastly, InSight’s Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment, RISE, will precisely track the location of the lander to determine just how much the North Pole on Mars wobbles when the planet orbits the sun. These observations will provide a clear understanding of how large the iron-rich core of Mars is. The data will help determine if the core is liquid, and also the elemental composition of the core.

The nature of the InSight mission is exciting because of the extensive amount of information that will be gleaned that can be used to help future human missions to the Red Planet. The duration of the probe’s mission is nearly two Earth years. It will take about ten weeks for the instruments to be fully deployed, calibrated and for data collection to begin. In the meantime, the onboard cameras will send back images of the landing site and InSight’s surrounds to give the scientists back at Mission Control a better understanding of the probe’s new home.

For a complete overview of the Mars InSight Mission, visit: NASA Mars InSight

All images are sourced from NASA, property/copyright NASA.