NASA’s InSight spacecraft arrives at launch site
NASA’s InSight spacecraft has arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to begin final preparations for its launch in May. The spacecraft was flown aboard an Air Force C-17 from Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, Colorado, and arrived at Vandenberg at 3:49 p.m. PST (6:49 p.m. EST) on Wednesday, February 28.
The launch period for InSight begins May 5 and continues through June 8. If everything goes as planned, InSight will be the first interplanetary mission to launch from the U.S. West Coast.
“The Air Force C-17 crew from the 21st Airlift Squadron gave us a great ride,” said Tom Hoffman, InSight project manager, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory stated via an agency-issued release. “Next time InSight travels as high and as fast, it will be about 23 seconds into its launch, on the way to Mars.”
InSight is currently in the Astrotech processing facility at Vandenberg, where it will soon be removed from its shipping container. The spacecraft should then undergo functional testing to verify its state of health later next week. The team will then load updated flight software and perform a series of mission readiness tests which will involve the entire spacecraft, its science instruments and the ground data system.
“One of the most important activities before launch is to load the spacecraft with the fuel needed for the journey to Mars,” said Hoffman. “After fuel loading, the spacecraft will undergo a spin-balance test to determine precisely the center of mass. This knowledge is needed to be sure the entry and descent into the Mars atmosphere goes as planned.”
InSight is slated to be launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex 3E at Vandenberg Air Force Base. If the launch takes place on May 5, the launch window will open at 4:05 p.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT) and remain open until 6:05 a.m. PDT (9:05 a.m. EDT).
If everything goes as advertised, InSight will be the first mission to deep beneath the surface of Mars. The lander will use seismic waves generated by Marsquakes to map the deep interior of Mars. InSight’s Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3), will burrow down nearly 16 feet (5 meters) beneath the Martian surface. The probe will measure heat coming from the interior of Mars to determine how much heat is flowing through the body of the planet.
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.