Invasion continues with new Mars probe

At around 6:00 AM, Sydney time, this morning, November 27, a new probe landed on the surface of Mars.

Called InSight, which in NASA-speak is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — it’s not alone in its trip.

Two smaller craft, in a cube shape, make up MarCo, or Mars Cube One.

They’re intended to be relay stations for InSight’s signals.

The mission itself is relatively simple, if anything about spaceflight can be said to be simple.

A seismometer, built by the French space agency, is part of the equipment list, and again relatively simple — its intent is to “listen” to the structure of Mars itself.

Earthquakes, natural crust movements, and the like, will give researchers more information about what’s unseen and happening on Mars.

A probe, engineered in Germany, will look for heat signatures in and under the dusty surface.

Measurements of sub-surface heat flow will potentially provide information about how planetary formations happened.

As a package, InSight is comparatively light in mass.  

Total weight is 694kg, with the lander itself 358kg, and inside an aeroshell of 189kg.

The cruise stage and propellant weigh in at 79kg and 67kg respectively. The cubesats, a newish development in satellite tech, are a mere 13.5kg each.

SEIS, or Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, will take precise measurements of quakes and other internal activity on Mars to better understand the planet’s history and structure.

The heat probe, known as HP3 or Heat Flow and Physical properties Package, is designed by the German Aerospace Centre, and should be able to burrow up to two metres below the dirt’s surface.

The probe itself has sensors every 10cm for precise measurement of temperature change.

A third experiment, RISE, or Rotational and Interior Structure Experiment, from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will use X-Band radio signals to measure the rotational spin and speed of Mars itself.

It’s a super precise instrument, with accuracy measured to two centimetres.

Backing this up is LaRRi, the Laser RetroReflector for InSight. Passive laser range finding will allow measurement of the surface and orbit past the expected two-year lifespan of the main units.

Originally scheduled to launch in 2016, the project was delayed due to recurring equipment issues, which also resulted in a cost blowout of around US $830 million.

InSight was launched in early May of 2018, with NASA having to wait for orbital realignment.

Once landed and the solar panels are locked into place, InSight measures just six metres in width, and will stand just on a metre tall.

InSight is the latest in a long term series of probes to head to “The Red Planet” and is also likely to confirm that the chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one . . . 

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