Mars InSight: NASA’s new mission to the Red Planet about to attempt daring touchdown – Science News

Six years after NASA’s Curiosity rover arrived at Mars in what has actually decreased in history as the 7 minutes of horror, researchers are about to attempt to land a new spacecraft on the Red Planet.

Insight bottom lines.


Key points

  • New spacecraft called Mars In Sight will attempt to arrive on Mars
  • Spacecraftabout the size of a table, with “steampunk claw” connected
  • Itsmission is to research study Marsquakes


TheMars In Sight lander, which launched in May, is due to touchdown tomorrow early morning (November27) prior to 7: 00 am AEDT.

Its landing will not be rather as nail-biting as Curiosity’s, however it is still dangerous, stated the mission’s deputy lead, Sue Smrekar, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In2016, the European Schiaparelli lander, the just spacecraft to attempt to arrive on the planet given that Curiosity, crashed and burned.

Ifthe Mars In Sight landing is successful, it will be the very first spacecraft to research study the Red Planet’s inner tricks.

“We’ve had many missions that have looked at the surface of Mars, but we’re the first one that is really going to tell us about the interior of Mars,” she stated.

The craft: A table with a steampunk claw

TheIn Sight lander– brief for Interior Exploration utilizing Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport– is extremely various to the Mars rovers.

“We do not have wheels — we actually need to stay in one place and be as quiet as possible,”Dr Smrekar stated.

Aboutthe size of a table with 2 photovoltaic panels connected, the In Sight lander is created to take Mars’s pulse and temperature level.

The craft is kitted out with a 1.8- metre robotic arm or “steampunk claw” that can delicately position 2 experiments– a 20- centimetre, dome- shaped seismometer, and a heat probe– into position.

“This is super-important stuff for us,”Dr Smrekar stated.

Viking 2, a previous mission to Mars did have a seismometer, however it remained on the deck of the spacecraft.

“Basically it identified gusts of wind that made the lander shake, however you can’t truly find seismic waves utilizing that setup [on the spacecraft],” Dr Smrekar stated.

“So, for the first time we’ve got a seismometer and actually placed it on the ground.”

Themission: Marsquakes and rocky cores

The seismometer will determine Marsquakes– subtle vibrations brought on by internal rumblings, meteorites smashing into the planet or dust storms whipping throughout the surface area, discusses Katarina Miljkovic, an Australian- based researcher on the job.

“The seismometer will sit there and listen to any shakes and quakes that are coming off the interior,” stated Dr Miljovovic, from Curtin University.

Observingthe seismic waves bouncing around Mars will provide the researchers a concept of what the internal structure of the planet appears like. This, in turn, can assist us comprehend how rocky worlds formed.

The heat probe, which can burrow 5m into the ground, might likewise provide us more hints about the possible habitability of Mars, Dr Smrekar stated.

“Understanding where water can be found is certainly a function of the temperature underground, so that will certainly help us in constraining what environments might be useful for finding either ice or possibly even liquid water,” she stated.

The craft will likewise have a radio antenna that can determine the planet’s wobble.

The location: The most uninteresting put on Mars …

TheIn Sight lander is heading for the Elysium Planitia, simply 600 km far from Curiosity.

But do not be tricked by the unique name. This location is “the flattest, safest, most boring landing site ever on Mars,” Dr Smrekar stated.

The volcanic plain lies near the equator, which ensures the craft will have adequate solar power.

It is low enough to have adequate environment to sluggish the craft down on entry.

And lastly, there aren’t lots of rocks.

“We don’t want our spacecraft to land on rocks — and when we put our heat flow probe down to burrow underground, we also don’t want to have rocks in the subsurface,”Dr Smrekar described.

The landing: 6.5 minutes in the dark

OnceIn Sight hits Mars’s environment, it will take simply 6.5 minutes to land.

Butthe researchers will not understand what occurred till they get the very first signals back, around 8 minutes later on– the time it considers a signal to travel at the speed of light from Mars to Earth.

“We can’t command anything while this is happening. We have to just rely on getting the sequence of commands correct in advance,”Dr Smrekar stated.

Fromthe time it strikes Mars’s environment– taking a trip at a speed of around 19,800 km per hour– it will go through a series of actions.

Drag on the heat guard will slow the craft down, then it will launch a parachute and drift down towards the surface area.

When it gets close to the surface area, it will ditch the parachute and heat guard and fire up rockets.

“By the time we’re almost to the ground, it’s quite a gentle touchdown,”Dr Smrekar stated.

As it goes through those actions, two mini satellites known as the Mars Cube One or MarCO satellites will be riding shotgun, passing on signals at each stage back to ground stations on Earth.

“So if everything goes well with those CubeSats — we do have other ways of getting the data back if for some reason something goes wrong there — they’ll be our first opportunity to get that data and confirm we’ve landed safely,”Dr Smrekar stated.

They’ll likewise send out the very first fuzzy image taken by the In Sight lander back to the Deep Space Network.

Ifthe landing is successful, the group will invest the next number of months selecting where to location the instruments, which will remain in location for a minimum of 2 Earth years (one Mars year).

They’ll take pictures of the landscape to get details about slopes and rock height and take temperature level information.

“We want to put our instruments down in the optimal place,”Dr Smrekar stated.

This will take some time as the information is sent out up by means of another spacecraft orbiting Mars, called the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“Then we’ll start acquiring data for the rest of the Mars year,”Dr Smrekar stated.

Hear an extended interview with Dr Sue Smrekar on the Science Show.

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