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Home / Science / The first mission to study what is below the surface of Mars begins on May 5th

The first mission to study what is below the surface of Mars begins on May 5th



Photo credits: NASA / JPL-CALTECH

It's red and it's dead. So why does NASA send another mission to Mars?

Almost 70 Orbiters, Flybys, Landers and Rovers have been sent to the Red Planet, so some might be confused as to why NASA is sending another mission – called InSight – to bravely go where it was before.

The answer, of course, is science. Awesome, cutting-edge planetary science, which was previously not possible. InSight will investigate Mars for Marsbeats, among others.

When will InSight start?

The first mission ever to be surveyed deep beneath the Martian surface is InSight for launch before dawn at 4: 05:00 CET / 1

9:05 CET on May 5, 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This makes it the first planetary mission to be launched from the US West Coast.

On the back of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-401 rocket – one of the largest rockets of all time – from the Space Launch Complex-3 in Vandenberg it goes up.

  InSight will be on 5 May 2018 | start at 04:05 PT PT Credit: NASA / JPL-CALTECH

InSight will launch PT on May 5, 2018 at 4:05 pm PT Credit: NASA / JPL-CALTECH

Luckily you can start Watch live on NASA TV . Early ascending Californians living between Santa Maria and San Diego may even get a glimpse of the start.

A ride will be two computer chips containing 2.4 million names sent to the project.

"It's an experiment to see how many people can join a mission to Mars," said Bruce Banerdt, Principal Investigator for InSight at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "They're both stuck!"

When and where does InSight land?

InSight will take 206 days to travel 485 million kilometers to Mars. InSight, however, will not travel to Mars alone.

The Atlas V will also be launching two masked ax kits called MarCO, which will guide InSight into the Martian atmosphere and keep sending data on its progress and landing.

With the help of a supersonic parachute and descent motors InSight will land on 26 November 2018 on Mars.

Once landed, it will not move an inch more, since it takes up the vital signs of Mars – its tectonic activity and its temperature – which are only possible from a complete stationary position.

  InSight uses a supersonic parachute for touchdown | Credit: NASA / JPL-CALTECH

InSight uses a supersonic parachute for touchdown | Credit: NASA / JPL-CALTECH

It is located in the Elysium Planitia region of Mars, where there are no rocks and shallow enough to guarantee that the InSight solar panels are in continuous sun.

This is only 373 miles from Gale Crater, where Curiosity spent the last six years (or three Mars years ) on a super slow 10-mile tour.

InSight, however, is more similar to the Phoenix Mars Lander which landed in the northern polar circle of Mars in 2008 to study soil and ice beneath the surface.

InSight will not move too much because it's not there to investigate the Martian soil, but what's underneath.

"It really does not matter where we land because we are interested in the deep structure of the planet," said Banerdt, adding that NASA has chosen the safest and easiest place to land.

So, what is a Marsquake?

Shorthand for exploring the interior with seismic surveys, geodesy, and heat transport, InSight will be the first NASA mission since the Apollo lunar landings to place a seismometer on an alien surface.

This instrument, called the Seismic Experiment on Internal Structure (SEIS), is designed to measure the intensity of waves that travel through the rocks previously discovered by Earth.

  InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Lockheed Martin

InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program | Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Lockheed Martin

Are they caused by Marsquakes or meteorites on the surface? Scientists expect between 12 and 100 Martian earthquakes in the biennial mission, but not more than 6.0 on the Richter scale.

The data collected by InSight corresponds to an X-ray image of the interior of Mars.

"InSight is in some ways like a scientific time machine that will provide information about the earliest stages of Mars formation 4.5 billion years ago," says Banerdt. "It will help us to learn how rock bodies form, including the Earth, their moon, and even planets in other solar systems."

What other technology is in InSight?

Although InSight flies off Mars Tharsis Plateau – home to some of the largest volcanoes in the Solar System – it has an instrument that can help scientists figure out how heat flows from within the Red Planet.

HP3 is a self-hitting heat flow probe pushed 16 feet / 5 meters into the surface of the planet to measure its temperature. On board is a radio system called RISE (Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment), with which the scientists measure the structure of the planetary nucleus.

"Two antennas on the spacecraft will communicate with [DeepSpaceNetwork on Earth, and by using the frequency shift, we can track the spacecraft's location with an accuracy of only a handful of inches," says Banerdt.

  InSight will be a few hundred miles from the Curiosity Rover | Landing Credit: NASA / JPL-CALTECH

InSight will be a few hundred miles from the Curiosity Rover | Land Credit: NASA / JPL-CALTECH

This is an incredible achievement 200 million miles away.

"As the planet spins with the spacecraft, we can find out the direction of the North Pole of Mars and watch it wobble," added Banerdt. The exact size and frequency of this shaking in the course of a Martian year will explain to scientists the size and density of the core of Mars.

How will InSight land on Mars?

InSight will take only six minutes from entering the Martian atmosphere at 14,100 miles per hour to land on its surface 80 miles below.

InSight is controlled by small missiles during descent and is braked by a supersonic parachute, pours out the heat shield and expands three shock-absorbing legs.

Eventually, it will detach itself from the parachute and hull, firing twelve descent motors, and slowing even more while gently setting it down.

  Elysium Planitia on Mars is flat and smooth | Credit: NASA / JPL-CALTECH

Elysium Planitia on Mars is flat and smooth | Credit: NASA / JPL-CALTECH

At least that's the plan. It will be an annoying time for mission control as InSight lands on Mars in the northern hemisphere in the fall, when large dust storms are common.

However, where InSight touches down is also his final resting place after completing his 26-month mission – a Martian year. You can follow InSight on Twitter .


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