InSight lander deploys seismometer on Mars
NASA’s InSight Mars lander has been busy getting its suite of instruments prepared for regular use to explore the interior of the Red Planet.
The spacecraft, which landed in Elysium Planitia on Nov. 26, 2018, recently deployed and leveled its seismometer to study “marsquakes.” A second instrument, the heat flow probe, is waiting for its turn to make a similar trek from the deck of the lander to the surface in the coming weeks.
Due to the ongoing partial U.S. government shutdown, which began on Dec. 22, 2018, formal updates on the mission’s progress have been scarce. However, spacecraft operations have continued as normal thanks in part to the operations budget being previously allocated before the shutdown.
Despite few formal updates, the mission’s website has remained online and been updated periodically. Additionally, the mission’s official Twitter account has remained active.
On Jan. 6, a GIF was posted on the mission’s Twitter feed showing Seismic Explorations for Interior Structure (SEIS) leveling itself as it prepares to record its first measurements.
A second GIF was posted on Jan. 7 from raw images acquired on Jan. 3. It showed the power and data tether leading out to SEIS releasing its slack to rest directly on the surface rather than being flexed above the surface as seen during the instrument’s initial deployment.
Soon, a large domed solar and wind cover, which is currently sitting on the deck of InSight, is planned to be placed on top of the main SEIS instrument to shield it from the elements. SEIS itself was deployed onto the surface on Dec. 19, 2018.
The other main instrument awaiting deployment onto the surface is the heat flow probe (HP3), which aims to “take the temperature of Mars” by measuring the residual heat being emitted from the planet’s interior.
Scientists suspect that Mars has a differentiated interior similar to Earth and other terrestrial bodies in the solar system. By measuring the amount of heat radiated from the planet’s core, scientists hope to learn if the core is still molten or partially molten and whether Earth and Mars share similar formation histories.
It is hoped that the HP3 measurements will help scientists refine models that predict how terrestrial (or rocky) planetary bodies are expected to form while refining our understanding of Earth’s interior as well.
Unlike the Curiosity or Opportunity rovers that move across the surface, InSight is a stationary lander. Once its instruments are deployed, it will record measurements at the same location during its two-year prime mission.
While more detailed updates from NASA are not expected until the end of the government shutdown, the deployment of SEIS and the probable deployment of HP3 in the coming weeks appear to generally be on schedule.
Paul is currently a graduate student in Space and Planetary Sciences at the University of Akransas in Fayetteville. He grew up in the Kansas City area and developed an interest in space at a young age at the start of the twin Mars Exploration Rover missions in 2003. He began his studies in aerospace engineering before switching over to geology at Wichita State University where he earned a Bachelor of Science in 2013. After working as an environmental geologist for a civil engineering firm, he began his graduate studies in 2016 and is actively working towards a PhD that will focus on the surficial processes of Mars. He also participated in a 2-week simluation at The Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in 2014 and remains involved in analogue mission studies today. Paul has been interested in science outreach and communication over the years which in the past included maintaining a personal blog on space exploration from high school through his undergraduate career and in recent years he has given talks at schools and other organizations over the topics of geology and space. He is excited to bring his experience as a geologist and scientist to the Spaceflight Insider team writing primarily on space science topics.