27th November 2018
NASA InSight probe arrives on Mars
NASA confirms that the InSight Lander arrived successfully on the planet Mars, returning two images.
NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander successfully touched down on the Red Planet after an almost seven-month, 458 million km (300 million mile) journey from Earth. Its two-year mission will be to study the deep interior of Mars, to learn how all celestial bodies with rocky surfaces, including Earth and the Moon, formed.
InSight was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on 5th May 2018. The lander touched down last night, 26th November, near Mars' equator on the western side of a flat, smooth expanse of lava called Elysium Planitia, with a signal affirming a completed landing at noon PST (3pm EST).
"Today, we successfully landed on Mars for the eighth time in human history," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "InSight will study the interior of Mars, and will teach us valuable science as we prepare to send astronauts to the Moon and later to Mars. This accomplishment represents the ingenuity of America and our international partners and it serves as a testament to the dedication and perseverance of our team. The best of NASA is yet to come, and it is coming soon."
The landing signal was relayed to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, via one of NASA's two small experimental Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats, which launched on the same rocket as InSight and followed the lander to Mars. They are the first CubeSats in deep space. After successfully carrying out a number of communications and in-flight navigation experiments, the twin MarCOs were set in position to receive transmissions during InSight's entry, descent and landing (relayed back to Earth with a data rate of 8 kbps).
"We hit the Martian atmosphere at 12,300 mph (19,800 km/h), and the whole sequence to touching down on the surface took only six-and-a-half minutes," said InSight project manager Tom Hoffman at JPL. "During that short span of time, InSight had to autonomously perform dozens of operations and do them flawlessly – and by all indications that is exactly what our spacecraft did."
In the next two days, the engineering team will begin to deploy InSight's 1.8 m (5' 9") robotic arm, so that it can take images of the landscape. It will begin to collect science data within the next week.
"Landing was thrilling, but I'm looking forward to the drilling," said InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt of JPL. "When the first images come down, our teams will hit the ground running – beginning to plan where to deploy our science instruments. Within two or three months, the arm will deploy the mission's main science instruments, the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instruments."
InSight will operate on the surface for one Martian year, plus 40 Martian days, or sols, until 24th November 2020. The mission objectives of the two small MarCOs that relayed InSight’s telemetry were completed after their Martian flyby.
"That's one giant leap for our intrepid, briefcase-sized robotic explorers," said Joel Krajewski, MarCOproject manager at JPL. "I think CubeSats have a big future beyond Earth's orbit, and the MarCO team is happy to trailblaze the way."
"Every Mars landing is daunting – but now with InSight safely on the surface, we get to do a unique kind of science on Mars," said JPL director Michael Watkins. "The experimental MarCO CubeSats have also opened a new door to smaller planetary spacecraft. The success of these two unique missions is a tribute to the hundreds of talented engineers and scientists who put their genius and labour into making this a great day."
You can follow the latest mission updates on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/NASAInSight
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