After an almost seven-month, 300-million-mile (458 million km) journey from Earth, NASA’s InSight lander successfully touched down Monday, November 26, 2018, near Mars’ equator on the western side of a flat, smooth expanse of lava called Elysium Planitia, with a signal affirming a completed landing sequence at approximately 3 p.m. EST (12 p.m. PST, 8 p.m. GMT). The landing signal was relayed via one of NASA’s two small experimental Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats.
“Today, we successfully landed on Mars for the eighth time in human history,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
“InSight will study the interior of Mars, and will teach us valuable science as we prepare to send astronauts to the Moon and later to Mars.”
“This accomplishment represents the ingenuity of America and our international partners and it serves as a testament to the dedication and perseverance of our team. The best of NASA is yet to come, and it is coming soon.”
The landing signal was relayed to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory via one of NASA’s two MarCO CubeSats, which launched on the same rocket as InSight and followed the lander to Mars.
“Every Mars landing is daunting, but now with InSight safely on the surface we get to do a unique kind of science on Mars,” said Dr. Michael Watkins, Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“The experimental MarCO CubeSats have also opened a new door to smaller planetary spacecraft. The success of these two unique missions is a tribute to the hundreds of talented engineers and scientists who put their genius and labor into making this a great day.”
“We hit the Martian atmosphere at 12,300 mph (19,800 kmh), and the whole sequence to touching down on the surface took only 6.5 minutes,” said InSight project manager Dr. Tom Hoffman, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“During that short span of time, InSight had to autonomously perform dozens of operations and do them flawlessly — and by all indications that is exactly what our spacecraft did.”
Confirmation of a successful touchdown is not the end of the challenges of landing on Mars.
InSight’s surface-operations phase began a minute after touchdown. One of its first tasks was to deploy its two decagonal solar arrays, which will provide power. That process began 16 minutes after landing and took another 16 minutes to complete.
The confirmation that the spacecraft’s solar panels successfully deployed was received on Earth on November 26, 2018 at about 8:30 p.m. EST (5:30 p.m. PST, 1:30 a.m. GMT on November 27). The signal and several images were relayed to NASA via the agency’s Mars Odyssey orbiter.
“The InSight team can rest a little easier tonight now that we know the spacecraft solar arrays are deployed and recharging the batteries,” Dr. Hoffman said.
“It’s been a long day for the team. But tomorrow begins an exciting new chapter for InSight: surface operations and the beginning of the instrument deployment phase.”
InSight’s twin solar arrays are each 7 feet (2.2 m) wide; when they’re open, the entire lander is about the size of a big 1960s convertible.
Mars has weaker sunlight than Earth because it’s much farther away from the Sun. But the lander doesn’t need much to operate: the panels provide 600 to 700 watts on a clear day, enough to power a household blender and plenty to keep its instruments conducting science on the Red Planet. Even when dust covers the panels — what is likely to be a common occurrence 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, though InSight’s are slightly larger in order to provide more power output and to increase their structural strength. These changes were necessary to support operations for one full Mars year (two Earth years).
InSight will begin to collect science data within the first week after landing, though the mission teams will focus mainly on preparing to set InSight’s instruments on the Martian ground.
At least two days after touchdown, the engineering team will begin to deploy InSight’s 5.9-foot-long (1.8-m-long) robotic arm so that it can take images of the landscape.
“Landing was thrilling, but I’m looking forward to the drilling,” said InSight principal investigator Dr. Bruce Banerdt, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“When the first images come down, our engineering and science teams will hit the ground running, beginning to plan where to deploy our science instruments. Within two or three months, the arm will deploy the mission’s main science instruments, the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instruments.”
The mission objectives of the two small MarCOs which relayed InSight’s telemetry was completed after their Martian flyby.
“That’s one giant leap for our intrepid, briefcase-sized robotic explorers,” said MarCO project manager Dr. Joel Krajewski, also of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“I think CubeSats have a big future beyond Earth’s orbit, and the MarCO team is happy to trailblaze the way.”
Source: Sci News