Engineers prepare NASA's Mars InSight Lander for launch into the Red Planet. (Credit: NASA) Last month, Mars began to dig NASA's InSight Lander into the Red Planet. His HP instrument 3 (Heat Flow and Physical Properties) was developed to dig and measure Mars from the subsurface, and new geological evidence was found on how heat flows through the soil of Mars. The part of this instrument that actually drills into the ground is called a mole. It should penetrate up to 16 meters deep. Only a few hours after it had begun to dig, it stopped. The mole was only about a foot deep.
Since then mission scientists have been working hard to figure out how to get them going again. According to Tilman Spohn, chief investigator of the instrument HP 3 her current best guess is that the mole hit a rock or a layer of gravel. But he admits that this is partly speculation. It is also possible that the drill somehow gets stuck on its own support structure. The team has to explore all possibilities before it comes to action.
Testing at home and on Mars
InSight's HP3 device has copies on Earth that scientists can use to work on solutions. (Source: NASA / JPL-Caltech / DLR)
To find out, the NASA team used a range of diagnostic tools such as InSight's camera and other sensors. But they also try to fix the problem with design models here on Earth. InSight has a twin, currently in Berlin, and many more copies of his various instruments, including the Mole. Since the failure, engineers have been practicing with these clone-lands. They've tried to re-create the problem they see on Mars, and then find a way to bring the earth-bound moles back to life. Only then do you try these corrections with the real InSight.
Spohn points out that the whole process is slow and it may take another month before the team is ready to do any repair on Mars. Even once they find a solution, they may need to write new software, test them on the models on Earth, and then send them to the real InSight before taking action.
At the moment, the teams at both Germans are working together on the Aerospace Center, which has provided the instrument HP 3 and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which operates the larger InSight mission, to find both the cause and potential solutions to the InSight Dig.
There are scenarios that could stop the mission where it stands. "If there is a one-meter-long boulder in the area," says Spohn, "we can not handle this situation, and the hope is that we'll hammer a small rock about half the size of the mole push this aside by continuing to hammer. "Spohn calls this the approach of" brute force. "
One way in which scientists could help the mole would be to press the mole or its support structure, probably with InSight's arm, to give it more strength and limit recoil. At the moment, part of the problem could be that the mole is bouncing off the rock instead of going through it, so adding more pressure could help knock it down. However, the arm was not pushed down, so testing with the models on Earth is so important before you try them on the 800-million-dollar plane on Mars.
If they continue to hammer and break or break part of it. Lander has no corrections on the Red Planet. "If you make a mistake, it's gone," says Spohn. However, he also points out that if the mole starts digging again, it could reach its target depth within about four hours and still have enough energy left. InSight itself is powered by solar energy and was designed for two years on Earth. InSight arrived on Mars in November, so there is still plenty of time.
When the worst case occurs and the mole can not continue, Spohn admits, "We would lose a considerable amount of science." The mole must do it To achieve the goal of measuring the heat flow from the interior of Mars, descend at least 10 feet. "But there is still much to do," he says. InSight's other instruments work as planned, and they still get information from the bottom of Mars that InSight was able to dig through. "It would still be things that have not been done," says Spohn. "Not as brave as originally planned, but still good science."