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Landing on Mars: what is the next step for NASA's InSight lander?



InSight has already been busy. Since landing, he has taken two photos and returned them as postcards on Earth, showing his new home. These initial images are grainy because the dust screens have not yet been removed from the lenses of the camera.

And last Monday, mission scientists were able to confirm that the twin solar panels of the probe had been deployed. With the fins deployed, InSight is about the size of a big cabriolet of the 1960s, said NASA.

"We run on solar power, so it's hard to take the modules out and operate them," said Tom Hoffman, InSight Project Manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "With the energy supply matrices we need to launch fun science operations, and we are well on our way to studying in depth what is inside of Mars for the very first time. time."

Solar panels are essential to the InSight function. Although Mars receives less light than Earth, InSight does not need much energy to conduct its scientific experiments. On a clear day, the panels will provide InSight between 600 and 700 watts – enough to power your kitchen blender, NASA said. As is well known, panels can still draw between 200 and 300 watts in more dusty conditions.

InSight took this picture shortly after the landing.

In the coming days, the robotic arm of InSight, of a length of 5.9 feet, will unfold and take pictures of the ground surrounding the LG. This will help mission scientists determine where they will place the instruments.

The entire process of decompression when InSight settles in its new home will take about two to three months from the time the instruments will begin to work and return data.

The suite of geophysical instruments will take measurements of the internal activity of Mars, such as seismology, and jitter when the sun and its moons move on the planet.

Among these instruments is the seismic experiment on interior structures to determine the cause of seismic waves on Mars, the set of heat fluxes and physical properties that burrows below the surface and the determination of the heat coming out of the planet, and the experience of rotation and inner structure using radios study the nucleus of the planet.

InSight will be able to measure the earthquakes that occur anywhere on the planet. And he is able to hammer a probe into the surface.

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That is why the information returned by InSight on its landing site is crucial. Creating a 3D model of the surface will help engineers understand where to place the instruments and the hammer into the probe, called the Mars Mole HP3 by those who built it.

"An ideal location for our Mars mole would be one that is as sandy as possible and does not contain rocks," said Christian Krause, Operations Manager at HP3.

Tilman Spohn, the principal investigator of the HP3 experiment, said: "Our plan is to use these measurements to determine the temperature of the interior of Mars and characterize the activity In addition, we wish to discover how the interior of Mars has developed, that it still has a hot molten core and what makes the Earth so special in comparison. "

NASA's InSight satellite landed on Mars

Early scientific data is not expected until March, but InSight will share snapshots of Mars along the way. And InSight's magnetometer and weather sensors measure the landing site, Elysium Planitia "The largest parking on Mars." It is along the Martian equator, bright enough and hot to power the solar generator of the lander all year round.

The information that InSight will collect on Mars applies to more than the red planet. This will expand the understanding of rocky planets in general.

"This has important implications beyond these two neighbors [Mars and Earth], while we are currently discovering thousands of exoplanets around other stars, some of which may be quite similar to Earth or Mars in terms of size, location and composition, "said Jack Singal, professor of physics at the University of Richmond and former NASA researcher in astrophysics.

What about MarCO?

The two suitcase-sized satellites that followed InSight, MarCO, are the first cubic satellites to fly in deep space. MarCO shared data on InSight when it entered the Martian atmosphere for the landing.

They were nicknamed EVE and WALL-E, for the Pixar 2008 movie robots. And their mission is over. The MarCO team will collect data from each satellite to determine the amount of fuel remaining and examine their performance in more detail.

"WALL-E and EVE worked as expected," said Andy Klesh, Chief Engineer at MarCO, JPL. "They have been a great test of how CubeSats can serve as" relays "in future missions, providing engineers with instant feedback during a landing."

MarCO-B took this image of Mars at about 4700 km.

The cubic satellites bade farewell to InSight after landing. MarCO-B took a picture of Mars at 4700 km during its flight at 3:10 pm. AND after helping to establish communications with Mission Control.

"WALL-E sent great postcards from Mars!" said Cody Colley of JPL, responsible for the mission at MarCO. "It's exciting to see the view for nearly 1,600 kilometers above the surface."

There are no scientific instruments on MarCO. But during the flight, MarCO-A transmitted signals across the edge of the Martian atmosphere. This atmosphere causes interference that changes the signal when it is received on Earth, allowing scientists to detect the amount of atmosphere present and even its composition.

"CubeSats have incredible potential for transporting cameras and scientific instruments in deep space," said John Baker, JPL Program Manager for Small Spacecraft. "They will never replace the better performing spacecraft that NASA is best known for developing, but they are low cost links that can allow us to explore new ways."

And for the team that worked on MarCO, the success of the mission is just the beginning.

"MarCO is primarily comprised of early-stage engineers and, for many, MarCO is their first academic experience on mission at NASA," said Joel Krajewski of JPL, Project Manager at MarCO. "We are proud of their achievement, which has allowed them to gain valuable experience in all areas of construction, testing and operation of a spacecraft in a deep space."


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