Large solar arrays deployed during tests of new Mars lander
The large solar arrays built to power NASA’s new Mars InSight lander were unfurled for testing by engineers and technicians at Lockheed Martin Space‘s facilities in Littleton, Colorado, on Tuesday, Jan. 23.
InSight, which is an acronym for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport, will study Mars’ deep interior, including its core, mantle, and crust, over a period of one Martian year, which equals nearly two Earth years.
The spacecraft’s launch window begins on May 5, 2018, and runs through June 8. On November 26, InSight is slated to land on Mars in the Elysium Planitia region, the planet’s second largest volcanic region, which straddles the planet’s equator.
Because Mars is quite far from the Sun and has a thin, dusty atmosphere, InSight’s solar panels are large and fan-shaped. They are expected to power the lander for a minimum of one Martian year.
All testing of the lander and its instruments are being conducted at Lockheed Martin, where the spacecraft was constructed. The solar panels passed their test by successfully collecting power when unfurled.
Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Joint Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), mission principal investigator, describes InSight’s study as “Mars’ first health checkup in more than 4.5 billion years. We’ll study its pulse by ‘listening’ for Marsquakes with a seismometer. We’ll take its temperature with a heat probe. And we’ll check its reflexes with a radio experiment.”
A microchip containing 1.6 million names submitted by individuals was attached to the lander, joining another chip put in place two years ago that holds 827,000 submitted names.
JPL’s Microdevices Laboratory, which has added similar chips with names and images on other spacecraft, including the agency’s Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit, Opportunity, and the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity, put the names on the tiny chips, which have widths of just 400 nanometers.
“This is the last time we will see the spacecraft in landed configuration before it arrives at the Red Planet,” said Lockheed Martin InSight Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations (ATLO) Manager Scott Daniels. “There are still many steps we have to take before launch, but this is a critical milestone before shipping to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.”
Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.