In a short interplanetary troubleshooting, NASA's InSight Mars Landing robotic arm has raised a support structure to expose an underground thermal probe that has been stuck in the surface of the Red Planet shortly after impact this year.
The InSight robotic arm, which operated remote commands from Earth at a distance of nearly 240 million miles (385 million kilometers), completed the three-stage process of lifting the support and moving it to a new location (about 8 inches) , 20 centimeters) closer to the stationary lander.
The move revealed that the heat flow and physical properties package (HP3 instrument) built by the Mission in Germany, which was unable to dig into Mars on February 28, was one mole within minutes of Start digging to a planned depth of 16 feet (5 feet) below the Martian surface deeper than any probe has dug into the Martian crust.
The engineers decided to stop digging to assess the state of the mole and develop a strategy to free the device.
The metal spike penetrated only about 30 centimeters into the ground and the back of the 40 centimeters) The mole still protrudes from the hole into which he was dug in February.
"We have completed the first step in our plan to save the mole," said Troy Hudson, a scientist and engineer with the InSight mission at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We're not done yet, but right now the whole team is overjoyed because we're so much closer to getting the mole moving again."
Can you dig it out? We are looking for disturbances on Mars from a distance of almost 240 million miles.
– NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) July 1, 2019
A series of images taken by InSight Cameras were shown showing a pit around the perimeter of the mole, a proof that supports the leading hypothesis why the instrument was jammed in February.
"I was a bit shocked along with others from the team when we saw how big the pit actually is," wrote Tilman Spohn, the HP3 instrument manager at the German Space Agency DLR. "Its diameter is about twice the diameter of the mole."
German engineers believe that the Martian soil at the InSight landing pad does not provide enough friction or resistance to prevent the mole from falling back with every hammer blow.
"The images from Mars confirm what we have seen in our tests here on Earth," says Mattias Grott, HP3 project scientist at DLR. "Our calculations were correct: this contiguous ground thickened into walls as the mole hammered."
The lifting structure operation was risky. The robot arm carried the HP3 instrument from the payload deck of InSight to the Martian surface last year after landing the mission last year. However, mission planners never intended that the arm pick up part of the instrument when it is on the ground.
The robotic arm grabbed the support structure to the floor in mid-June and lifted it in three carefully choreographed steps to make sure that the arm did not pull the mole out of the ground. If the mole comes out of its hole, the instrument can not be saved according to official information.
A band-shaped tether runs behind the mole through the support structure and back to the InSight Lander. Power is supplied to the instrument via the umbilical, and data from temperature sensors at moles and tethers can flow back to ground for transmission back to earth.
To minimize the risk, engineers also took a conscious approach to lifting the support structure. InSight's ground crew will collect more images of the mole in the coming days before taking the next step to save the mole. Engineers will most likely instruct the lander's robotic arm to push down on the ground around the mole to fill the pit and provide the necessary friction for the instrument to continue the digging.
There is still the possibility that the mole will hit a rock.  "While the mole should push small stones out of the way or detour around them, larger stones prevent the spike from advancing," NASA said in a statement.
Mission planners chose InSight's landing pad on a wide plain near the Martian equator to minimize the likelihood of a rock barrier emerging.
"The robotic arm's gripper is not designed to lift the mole once it's released from its support structure, so it can not move the mole when a stone blocks it," NASA said.
The HP3 instrument collects data on underground temperatures at different depths to help scientists better understand the amount of heat emanating from the interior of Mars. HP3 is one of two geophysical instruments that InSight has brought to Mars, and a seismometer built in France that works as expected and has already detected several Mars earthquakes.
The seismometer registered its first Marsquake on April 6 and recorded its largest Previous Seismic Signal A tremor scientist estimates the value at 3.0.
A third important scientific study of the InSight mission is the Rotational and Internal Structure Experiment (RISE), which uses radio signals transmitted between the lander and the earth to measure the vibration of the Martian rotation an idea of the core size and density of the red planet.
InSight is the first mission dedicated to investigating the interior of Mars. Scientists say the $ 1 billion project will provide data to help them understand how rock plants, including Earth, originated and evolved more than 4 billion years ago in the ancient solar system.
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