NASA will have a couple more eyes on the surface of Mars: after two years of delay, the Insight mission was launched to the red planet on May 5, 2018 from the Vandenberg base, in California.
The objective of the mission will be the study of geodesy and earthquakes on Mars, thanks to the sophisticated seismograph with which the lander is equipped. Insight is part of NASA’s Discovery program which consists of a set of highly specialized scientific space missions with reduced costs.
The delay in the launch of Insight
The launch was scheduled two years earlier, at the beginning of 2016, but due to technical problems with the seismograph sensors that could not be resolved in the short term, NASA had to postpone the mission. This is because the launch window useful to send a probe on Mars saving as much as possible on fuel lasts only 35 days every 26 months or so. The problem was then fixed and the mission was launched as planned in this year’s launch window.
Insight mission ready for launch.
The Insight mission consists of a lander that will land in November this year on the surface of Mars, more precisely on the Elysium Planitia, a vast volcanic region near the equator. The latter is one of the most impressive on the planet and the peak reaches a height of 16 km.
The main objectives of Insight will be the study of the Martian evolutionary history and the geodesy. Thanks to the SEIS seismograph (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure), the lander can study the seismic activity of Mars with a very high precision. Moreover, thanks to the HP3 (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package) instrument, Insight will be able to measure the flow of heat coming from inside the planet. The instrument will be positioned approximately 5 meters deep below the surface. A further instrument, Rise (Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment), will measure the smallest lander movements to obtain more information on the chemistry and geology of the planet’s core.
These data, together with those taken from the instruments on board (two cameras, a magnetometer, a temperature sensor, a wind sensor, a pressure sensor) will allow to study the meteorological conditions at the landing site, the internal structure of the planet, the dimensions of the nucleus and its physical state (liquid or solid).
Further secondary objectives are the study of tectonics, geophysics and meteorite impacts on Mars. Thanks to the work of Insight, scientists hope not only to discover something more about the red planet, but also to have important clues about the planetary formation processes of the other rocky planets, including the Earth.
Regarding the mission, Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s JPL said:
I’ve been to several rocket launches, but it is a whole different vibe when there is something you’ve been working on for years sitting in the nose cone waiting to get hurled beyond our atmosphere. But as exciting as launch day will be, it’s just a first step in a journey that should tell us not only why Mars formed the way it did, but how planets take shape in general.
The stellar sensor deserves special mention, as it will allow you to keep Insight on the pre-determined route. This “star compass” was created by “Leonardo” in Campi Bisenzio (Florence) and will calculate ten times per second the position of Insight using a small embedded telescope and a database of about 3,000 stars.
The scientific instruments of Insight