The Insight Lander on Mars: Everything You Need to Know

If you have had the chance to look at the news recently, you’ve probably heard about the new NASA mission to mars: the Insight Lander. However, while many know of the existence of the lander, most don’t know the purpose it was sent out for. This article will help clarify and elaborate on the purposes, landing, and current condition of the craft.

What’s the Deal with this Spacecraft?

The creation of the Insight lander was managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and it was launched off Earth on May 5th, 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Insight is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

What does that mouthful of a name mean? While previous Mars missions have been focused on finding more information about the surface and atmosphere of Mars, the Insight lander has the unique role of being the first rover sent to survey the interior of Mars[1]. The lander accomplishes this through the three instruments that have been sent with it. These include the SEIS, an seismic wave measuring system, the HP3, a heat flow and physical properties probe, and the RISE, a detector that helps survey the rotation of the planet itself. In addition to these tools, Insight is also the first Mars rover to be equipped with a large robot arm, a tool that has made it easier to unload and use instruments that came with the rover.  The robot arm also allows for easier image-taking, and the lander has actually been able to take pictures of itself, as seen here[2].

Selfie_InSight_43911
The “selfie” was a composite of a large number of pictures the lander took of itself.

Landing and Instrument Deployment

When preparing for a system able to land the craft, scientists needed to design a system that could safely land a half ton spacecraft going at 12,300 miles per hour. They accomplished this incredible feat through a 3 step landing process. First, they used of small rockets to change the landing angle. After that, a parachute was released which quickly brought the craft’s speeds down. Finally, a set of 12 rocket engines on the bottom of the craft allowed for the craft to slow down enough to safely land[3]. All of these methods worked perfectly as planned and on November 26th, much to the relief of the engineers on the Jet Propulsion Team, Insight landed on the surface of Mars. Since then, the craft has been continuously collecting data. One unexpected and unique bit of data that was collected by the lander was audio data from the winds on Mars. While it’s been well documented that Mars sometimes has heavy windstorms, the sounds that this wind makes have never been heard. As a result of the small vibrations caused by the wind, the craft’s seismometer was able to capture audio from these winds[4]

In addition to detecting wind, the seismometer will soon allow Insight to measure marsquakes and their magnitudes for the first time. Once the seismometer is properly calibrated, the measurements can begin. In regards to the other instruments, the craft is still in the preliminary process of deploying them. Currently, the HP3 is being deployed by having a small drill attached to the spacecraft create a hole going straight down. Once the hole is at a sufficient depth, the HP3 can begin monitoring the internal heat and physical properties of the planet. The RISE rotation detector has already started work, and is currently measuring the small changes in Martian rotation. Two years of continuous data collection will be enough for scientists to draw conclusions about how Mars rotates[5].

158_InSight_instrument_callouts_RISE
This simulated image by NASA shows the deployment of all three instruments: the SEIS seismometer on the left, the HP3 drill going into Mars on the right, and the RISE antennae measuring the rotation of Mars on the top of the lander.

The Novelty of the Lander

The incredible thing about this craft is that it’s collecting unique data that previous rovers have been unable to measure. There’s still plenty of more things for the Insight lander to discover on Mars, so make sure you keep up to date with the released images and news from NASA. You can find the entire catalog of images the lander has taken at: https://go.nasa.gov/2L6vIJ2, and you can find more information about Insight at https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/ 

By: Siddharth Mukherjee

Footnotes:

[1]: https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/mission/overview/

[2]: https://spacefellowship.com/news/art54386/insight-lander-takes-selfie-on-mars.html

[3]: https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/timeline/landing/entry-descent-landing/

[4]: https://www.nasa.gov/insightmarswind

[5]: https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/timeline/surface-operations/

 

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