NASA’s InSight lander completes thermal vacuum testing
The next robotic mission to Mars, NASA’s InSight lander, has undergone a thermal vacuum (TVAC) test to ensure it can survive the six-month journey to the Red Planet. The spacecraft is set to launch in May 2018.
InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is a stationary lander, much like the 2008 Phoenix spacecraft. In fact, much of the design is based on that successful mission. InSight is operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) but is being manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
The TVAC test, according to Lockheed Martin, is the most comprehensive test that can be performed on a fully assembled spacecraft before being launched. It involves using a depressurization chamber and will stress the design and assembly of the fully assembled vehicle. The goal, according to the company, is to validate the lander’s integrity and operational capability in a simulated space-like environment.
According to a Lockheed Martin press release on the test:
This milestone came after a long stream of rigorous tests including solar array deployments and electromagnetic interference and compatibility testing. With InSight coming out of TVAC, the team at Lockheed Martin has successfully completed the environmental testing phase and will be finalizing launch preparations over the coming months.
While InSight was originally scheduled to fly in 2016, troubles with one of the primary instruments – the French-built Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) – prompted NASA to postpone the launch of the mission to 2018. SEIS is designed to measure “Marsquakes” and other internal activity on the planet. The aim is to better understand the structure of Mars.
InSight is currently scheduled to launch atop an Atlas V rocket as early as May 5, 2018, from Vandenberg Air Force Base. It will mark the first interplanetary mission to start from the West Coast of the United States.
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 blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity.