NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander passed the halfway point between Earth and Mars on August 6, and tests of its science instruments indicate all are healthy and fully functional.
Launched on May 5 of this year, the lander is scheduled to touch down in Mars’s Elysium Planitia on November 26.
Mission scientists and engineers are testing software important for landing and surface operations. InSight’s highly sensitive science instruments will probe the planet’s deep interior.
Some of the instruments’ technology s being reused from NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander, which touched down on the Red Planet’s north polar region in 2008.
The lander is equipped with a seismometer, the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), which will explore Mars’s internal activity by measuring ground motions in a broad range of frequencies.
Another instrument, the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), will burrow 10 to 16 feet (3 to 5 meters) to measure the amount of heat escaping from the planet. It will drill into the surface using a self-hammering mechanical mole connected to sensors via a science tether that will run from the mole to the surface.
To assure HP3 operates successfully, mission team members tested its main electronics, its sensors, its internal heaters, and its electronic settings.
A third science instrument, the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), will study changes in Mars’s rotation axis through InSight’s radio connection with Earth. This will provide scientists with important data about the composition of Mars’s core.
Mars’s rotation axis is believed to be less stable and more changeable than Earth’s because the Red Planet does not have a large moon to act as a stabilizer.
InSight’s cameras were found to be functioning well after taking a “selfie” of the spacecraft’s interior.
“If you are an engineer on InSight, that first glimpse of the heat shield blanket, harness tie-downs, and cover bolts is a very reassuring sight, as it tells us our Instrument Context Camera is operating perfectly. The next picture we plan to take with this camera will be the surface of Mars,” said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
Current plans call for the cameras to photograph Elysium Planitia within minutes after landing.
Data returned by InSight is expected to help scientists better understand the processes that shaped the solar system’s rocky planets over four billion years ago.