Sunday, 22 July, 2018

What NASA's newest Mars mission will look for

Orbital ATK employees wearing protective clothing First NASA lander to study Mars interior due for California launch
Grady Vargas | 06 May, 2018, 00:03

They are created to test new communications and navigation capabilities for future missions and may provide real-time communication relay to cover the entry, descent and landing of InSight on Mars.

Similar in size to a briefcase or large cereal box, the satellites popped out from the rocket's upper stage after liftoff and are hightailing it to Mars, right behind InSight.

A drill a heat sensor 16 feet into the surface to measure whether there's heat emanating from the planet's core like the earth's gooey magma center.

During InSight's entry, descent and landing (EDL) operations, the lander will transmit information in the UHF radio band to NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) flying overhead.

"I can't describe to you in words how very excited I am ... to go off to Mars", said project manager Tom Hoffman from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Of course, InSight needs to first land successfully.

InSight will spend more than six months cruising toward Mars with plans for landing at noon November 26.

It will take the spacecraft more than six months to get to Mars.

The main goal of the mission is to probe shape of the rocky planets of the inner solar system more than four billion years ago.

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Usually, missions to other planets launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida and fly east, over the water of the Atlantic Ocean.

Also aboard the Atlas V rocket: A pair of mini-satellites, or CubeSats, meant to trail InSight all the way to Mars in a first-of-its-kind technology demonstration.

It was launched attached to the Atlas V rocket from the Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California before it later detached to make its way over to the Red Planet. Scientists know Mars has an iron core and a crust, but beyond that, the inside is "basically, completely unknown", said Banerdt.

For scientists, one principal question looms over the work InSight will perform: How did Earth and Mars become so radically different, given that each was formed of the same intergalactic "stuff" about 4.5 billion years ago?

While Vandenberg has launched approximately 2,000 rockets and missiles in six decades, the West Coast's first interplanetary mission attracted more attention than normal.

Most Mars rover missions are searching for water, but this rover is something of a departure from that.

"InSight, for seismologists, will really be a piece of history, a new page of history", said the Paris Institute of Earth Physics' Philippe Lognonne, lead scientist of the InSight seismometer.

Nasa normally launches from Cape Canaveral, but chose to switch to California for InSight to take advantage of a shorter flight backlog. Its flight path south of California is visible in the bottom-right.

"I can't think of a better way to start my day!"

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