Applause erupted at JPL Mission Control in Pasadena, California, as the InSight spacecraft successfully touched down on the surface of Mars. It was an emotional moment for the InSight team at JPL, validating many years of hard work.
InSight was launched from Vandenberg AFB in California aboard a ULA Atlas V on May 5, 2018. Insight then began a 7 month cruise to reach Mars.
Once it reached mars but before hitting the Martian atmosphere, the Spacecraft ejected its solar panels used to provide power and communications during the cruise from Earth. It then pointed its heat shield at the Martian atmosphere, using it to slow down from over 6000 miles per hour. At a couple hundred miles per hour, the parachute deployed, and then the heat shield was Jettisoned. At 1km above the ground, the Lander separates from the parachute, using onboard thrusters to come to a gentle landing. This whole process happens in the span of 6 1/2 minutes!
The lander touched down at 11:54am Pacific Time on Monday.
Prior to landing, the spacecraft ejected a pair of CubeSats, named MarCO-A and MarCO-B. Each are size of a briefcase and are the first CubeSats to be sent to the Red Planet. Each one acted as a relay satellite for the InSight lander as it made its descent, acting as an intermediary between InSight and Earth. Both CubeSats are expected to continue providing communications between Mars and Earth for a couple weeks, before the electronics gradually begin to fail.
InSight’s mission is to study the processes that shaped Mars into the planet it is today. Its instrument package includes a Seismometer to detect any Martian quakes. This will allow Scientists to determine the internal structure of the planet. It also has a heat probe, which is designed to burrow as deep as 16 feet into the Martian surface. The probe will help determine how much heat is escaping from the core, and at what rate.
The lander also includes wind speed sensors and several cameras that allow it take pictures of its surrounding. A retroreflector onboard the lander will allows Laserbeams to bounced off Insight, allowing future Martian Positioning Satellites to use the lander as a point of reference, even long after the InSight mission ends.
During the next couple months, the team at JPL will be doing health checkouts of the lander and its instruments. Later on, an onboard crane on the lander will take and position the Seismometer and Probe on the Martian surface. Science and normal operations are expected to begin sometime in March of next year.
InSight still needs to deploy its Solar Arrays, now that it has landed on Mars. Without the Solar Arrays to top up its battery, InSight will run out of power. The Solar Array deployment is scheduled to happen in the next couple hours.
Its new home is Elysium Planitia, a still, flat region where it’s set to study seismic waves and heat deep below the surface of the Red Planet for a planned two-year mission. Learn more: https://t.co/fIPATUugFo pic.twitter.com/j0hXTjhV6I
— NASA (@NASA) November 26, 2018