Spaceflight Insider

NASA releases 360-degree video of InSight Mars lander test lab

Engineers use a replica of NASA's InSight lander at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The real lander is expected to launch toward the Red Planet in May 2018. Photo Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Engineers use a replica of NASA’s InSight lander at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The real lander is expected to launch toward the Red Planet in May 2018. Photo Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Scientists and engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are using a replica of the upcoming InSight Mars lander to simulate conditions the spacecraft might face on the Red Planet’s surface. The U.S. space agency released a 360-degree video tour of the In-Situ Instrument Lab, where the team is operating the “testbed” under a variety of different conditions.

When the InSight mission reaches Mars in November 2018, the lander will study the interior of the Red Planet by measuring the planet’s internal temperature and seismic waves generated by marsquakes. To do so, InSight will have to carefully place a trio of science tools onto the surface using its robotic arm. 

Unlike the rovers that NASA is currently operating on Mars, the InSight will not be able to move or reposition itself once it touches down. According to NASA, the lander testbed sits on piles of crushed garnet, which simulate a mix of sand and gravel found on the surface of Mars. Additionally, it has legs that can be raised or lowered to simulate uneven ground with up to 15 degrees of tilt.

Engineers can also pile garnet at different tilts in the area in front of the testbed where it practices placing its three science tools: the Science Experiment for Interior Structures (SEIS), The Wind and Thermal Shield (WTS), and the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3).

According to InSight’s testbed lead Marleen Sundgaard, one challenge the lander faces in safely placing its instruments on the planet’s surface are the tethers that supply power to each science instrument. Each tether unspools as the arm lifts a science instrument off of the lander.

“We have multiple places where we could put each instrument down,” Sundgaard said. “There are scenarios where the tethers would cross each other, so we need to make sure they don’t snag.”

In addition to simulating the terrain of Mars, the test lab also recreates the lighting on the surface of the planet. Special lights are used to calibrate InSight’s cameras to the brightness and color of Martian sunlight.

InSight will be launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex 3E at Vandeberg Air Force Base in California. The launch window for the trip to Mars opens on May 5, 2018, and continues through June 8.

Video courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech



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.

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