InSight lander passes halfway mark on journey to Mars
NASA’s InSight spacecraft passed the halfway mark Aug. 6, 2018, on its journey to Mars. In that time, the lander has performed two trajectory correction maneuvers and verified all of its instruments are working properly.
According to NASA, the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) spacecraft, which launched May 5, 2018, has traveled 172 million miles (277 million kilometers) as of Aug. 20 and will cover an additional 129 million miles (208 million kilometers) by the time it reaches Mars on Nov. 26, 2018. The probe is set to land in the Red Planet’s Elysium Planitia region.
The 794-pound (360-kilogram) InSight is designed to study the interior structure of the Red Planet using several instruments including a seismometer to feel for quakes and a heat probe that will hammer itself into the ground.
During InSight’s six-month journey, NASA engineers have been communicating with the spacecraft and testing its instruments and subsystems. According to NASA, the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), which is one of the probe’s three main instruments, received a “clean bill of health” on July 19.
“We did our final performance checks on July 19, which were successful,” Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a NASA news release. “We have been using the spacecraft’s radio since launch day, and our conversations with InSight have been very cordial, so we are good to go with RISE as well.”
RISE is a radio science instrument. It stands for Rotation and Interior Structure and will look into precisely measuring the planet’s rotation using X-band radio waves, according to NASA.
The third main instrument, InSight’s Heat Flow and Physics Properties Package (HP3), was also tested. Once on Mars, it and SEIS will be moved via the lander’s robotic arm from the science deck to the surface. There, the probe will use a self-hammering mechanical mole to burrow down up to 16 feet (5 meters). According to NASA, the instrument’s checkout consisted of powering on the main electronics for the experiment, performing checks of the sensors and evaluating some of the instruments internal heaters
In addition to the scientific instruments, NASA said the spacecraft’s cameras were also checked out fine as well, taking a “selfie” while inside the protective backshell.
“If you are an engineer on InSight, that first glimpse of the heat shield blanket, harness tie-downs and cover bolts is a very reassuring sight as it tells us our Instrument Context Camera is operating perfectly,” said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman from JPL in a news release. “The next picture we plan to take with this camera will be of the surface of Mars.”
Video courtesy of NASA
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.