Scientists have just completed a big milestone for NASA's Mars InSight lander, which will help us learn more about the Red Planet.
NASA’s Mars InSight lander is one step closer to launching on a critical mission, as the lander team began preparing to ship the spacecraft from where it was built in Denver to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The Mars InSight lander will be the first interplanetary mission to have a West Coast launch.
NASA has already had a number of successful landers on Mars, including the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers that have led to tremendous scientific breakthroughs in our understanding of the Red Planet. InSight is different in that it will be the first mission focused on Mars’ deep interior.
InSight will sort of act like a doctor conducting a physical for Mars, checking its “pulse” in terms of seimology and measuring its temperature, to name a few activities. By doing this, the InSight team hope that we will learn more about how such planets form. Being able to compare Mars to what we already know about Earth will be a tremendous boon to science.
Here’s what NASA says about InSight’s upcoming launch on its website.
InSight is scheduled to launch under pre-dawn skies from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central coast of California in May 2018.
The mission’s launch period is May 5 through June 8, 2018, with daily launch windows that last two hours per day. Launch opportunities are set five minutes apart during each date’s launch window. The first opportunity begins at approximately 4:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on May 5.
InSight will launch from Launch Complex 3 and ride atop an Atlas V-401 rocket provided by United Launch Alliance, Centennial Colorado, a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.
The Atlas V is one of the biggest rockets available for interplanetary flight. This is the same type of rocket that launched the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2005.
The launch is only the beginning; the trip to Mars takes about six months. The journey is about 301 million miles (485 million kilometers).
No matter at what particular time and date InSight launches during its launch windows, its date with Mars is set for Nov. 26, 2018.
Pre-project planning includes Phase A, in which InSight completes its concept and requirements definition. Phase B includes preliminary design and technology development.
Science Definition and Instrument Selection: NASA selects a team of scientists to propose mission objectives and desired capabilities. The scientific community proposes instruments capable of meeting mission objectives.
Final Design and Fabrication: The InSight mission team builds parts of the lander and its spacecraft in Phase C.
Landing Site Selection: InSight will land in Elysium Planitia, an equatorial plain. Its purpose is to study the interior of Mars, which requires a smooth, flat surface chosen for its safety considerations.
Assembly and Testing: Engineers assemble and test the InSight spacecraft at Lockheed Martin in Denver, CO (Phase D).
Shipping the Spacecraft to Vandenberg Air Force Base: The InSight lander journeys from its Denver birthplace to California in preparation for launch.
Assembly and Testing at Vandenberg Air Force Base: Once InSight arrives at Vandenberg Air Force Base, the mission team has considerable work to prepare the spacecraft for final assembly and launch.
Surface operations begin one minute after landing at Elysium Planitia on Mars. InSight’s prime mission on the surface is for one Martian year (approximately 2 Earth years); 708 Mars days, or sols, which is equal to 728 Earth days.
Some science data collection begins the first week after landing. InSight takes about 10 weeks from landing to complete the placement of instruments on the surface of Mars. The heat probe deploys and burrows to its full depth about seven weeks later. After that, the lander sits still and collects data from the instruments.
After the dust from landing settles (about 16 minutes later), the motors for InSight’s solar arrays warm up and prepare to unfurl its solar panels. This is an important activity that ensures that InSight has all the power it needs for surface operations. This and other tasks on landing day take place autonomously, without human intervention.