With InSight safely on the surface of Mars, the mission team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, learns more about the spacecraft landing site. When InSight landed on November 26, they knew that the spacecraft had reached a target, a lava plane called Elysium Planitia. Now they have noticed that the vehicle sits slightly tilted (about 4 degrees) in a flat, dust and sand filled impact crater called the "cavity". InSight is designed to work on a surface with an inclination of up to 15 degrees.
"The science team had hoped to land in a sandy area with a few rocks since we chose the landing pad, so we could not be happier," said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman of JPL. "There are no landing pads or runways on Mars, so driving down an area that's basically a big sandpit with no big stones should make instrumentation easier and give our mole a great place to dig . "
Rockiness and grade factor in the landing security and is also important to determine if InSight can fulfill its mission after landing. Rocks and slopes could interfere with InSight's ability to position its heat flux probe – also known as "the mole" or HP 3 – and the ultra-sensitive seismometer (SEIS) on the surface of Mars. 19659005] Placing an excessively steep slope in the wrong direction could also have jeopardized the spacecraft's ability to obtain sufficient power from its two solar arrays, while landing alongside a large rock would have prevented InSight from opening any of these arrays. In fact, both arrays are fully deployed shortly after landing.
The InSight science team's preliminary assessment of the landings taken so far suggests that the area near the lander is populated by only a few rocks. It is expected that in the coming days images will arrive at higher resolution after InSight has released the transparent dust covers, which keep the optics of the two cameras of the spacecraft during landing safely.
"We look forward to high-resolution images to confirm this preliminary assessment," said Bruce Banerdt of JPL, chief investigator for InSight. "If these few images – with dissolution-reducing dust covers – are accurate, this is good for both the instrumentation and the penetration of the mole of our underground heat flux experiment."
Once Locations on the Martian Surface Have been Carefully Selected For the two main instruments, the team will make their first attempts to test the mechanical arm that will be used to place them.
Lander-based data also suggest that the solar-powered InSight probe on its first full day on Mars generated more electrical energy than any other vehicle on the surface of Mars.
"It's great to set our first record world record on our very first day on Mars," Hoffman said. "But even better than delivering more power than any mission ahead of us is what it represents for our upcoming design tasks, the 4,588 watt-hours we've produced in Sol 1 mean we currently have more than enough juice for them Tasks have progressed with our science mission. "
InSight, launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on May 5, will operate on the surface with one Mars year plus 40 Marstage or Sols, which is nearly two Earth years. InSight will explore the deep interior of Mars to see how all celestial bodies formed with rocky surfaces, including the Earth and the Moon.
NASA's Mars quake sensor, InSight, is at a slight angle