NASA's InSight has sent signals to Earth that its solar panels are open and capture sunlight on the Martian surface. NASA Mars Odyssey relayed the signals, which were received on Earth around 5:30 pm PST (8:30 pm EST). The deployment of solar panels allows the spacecraft to recharge its batteries every day. Odyssey also relayed a pair of images showing the landing site of InSight.
"The InSight team can rest a little easier tonight now that we know that the spacecraft's solar panels are deployed and are recharging the batteries," said Tom Hoffman, InSight's project manager at the lab. NASA Propulsion Project in Pasadena, California, which directs the mission. "The day was long for the team, but tomorrow begins a new exciting chapter for InSight: the ground operations and the beginning of the instrument deployment phase."
The two solar panels of InSight measure 2.2 meters wide each; When they are open, the entire landing gear is about the size of a 1960s big cabriolet. Mars sunlight is weaker than the Earth's because it is much farther away from the Sun. But the lander does not need much to exploit: the panels provide 600 to 700 watts on a clear day, enough to power a household mixer and enough for his instruments to continue scientific activities on the red planet. Even when the dust covers the panels – which is likely to be common on Mars – they should be able to provide at least 200 to 300 watts.
The panels are modeled on those used with NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, although those in InSight are slightly larger in order to provide more power and increase their structural strength. These changes were necessary to support operations for a full year on Mars (two Earth years).
In the coming days, the mission team will detach InSight's robotic arm and use the attached camera to take photos of the ground so that engineers can choose the location of the scientific instruments. of the probe. It will take two to three months before these instruments are fully deployed and return data.
In the meantime, InSight will use its weather sensors and magnetometer to take readings from its landing site at Elysium Planitia, its new home on Mars.
How will NASA know when InSight will hit the ground?