5 Key Points about the Landing of the InSight Mission to Mars

5 Key Points about the Landing of the InSight Mission to Mars

InSight will be handy in determining the habitable exoplanets.

Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport (InSight) is a robotic lander developed by the Lockheed Martin Space Systems with the intentions of examining the interior of Mars. Originally, the launch of the InSight Mission was scheduled for 2016 but it was postponed due to the failure of its SEIS instrument in December 2015. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA is responsible for managing this mission, which was eventually launched on 5th May 2018. It is expected to hit the Martian surface on 26th November 2018 at a site known as the ‘Elysium Planitia’.

Landing on Mars is not an easy feat to achieve by any definition of engineering. Each mission has its own complexities depending upon the area of landing and the type of data that needs to be gathered in that particular venture. InSight is the first-of-its-kind mission as it will study the deep interior of the red planet. Some of the salient features of the lander which will help it to accomplish the given task are explained below.

Tried and Tested Technology

The overall landing design of the InSight is inspired by the Phoenix spacecraft which was landed successfully at the North Pole of Mars in 2008. Although slight adjustments have been made to the parachute and heat shield of the lander, the basic technology is the same. As soon as it separates from a cruise stage, an aeroshell takes it down through the thin atmosphere of the red planet. In addition to the parachutes, retrorockets are used to slow the spacecraft down. The suspended legs of the lander help in absorbing the shock of the touchdown. Just like InSight, it was also created by the Lockheed Martin Space.

The strength of the InSight

Dust storms are quite common on Mars due to which the spacecraft might have to land in such an extreme scenario. Taking this fact into consideration, the engineers of the InSight have built a highly-resistant lander which can touch down safely in a dust storm. The heat shield of the spacecraft is strong enough to withstand being ‘sandblasted’ by dust. Similarly, the suspension lines of the parachute are improved to counter more air resistance in case of a dust storm. In order to ensure a safe landing, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter of NASA will provide daily weather updates to the mission team during the landing days. This will allow them to tweak the entry, descent, and landing sequence of the lander according to the atmospheric conditions.

The Biggest Parking Lot on Mars

The sensitive instruments of InSight have the ability to record equally valuable data irrespective of their position on the planet. This means that all this lander needs to land is a flat and solid surface with some rocks. Consequently, the mission team chose the landing site at Elysium Planitia as it is regarded as the ‘Biggest Parking Lot on Mars’.

In-depth Knowledge about Rocky Planets

Despite all the advancements in technology, humans have only studied one rocky planet (Earth) in detail. However, things might change dramatically as the InSight mission aims to analyze the deep interior of Mars. Scientists believe that this information will help them to determine the formation of the Earth, Moon, and other planets. This will allow humanity to better understand our solar system. Other than that, researchers hope that the data gathered by the InSight will prove useful in the search for Earth-like exoplanets as we will know which of the potential candidates can support life.

All these factors make this mission much more than a Mars mission as it has a number of advantages. Here is what Rob Manning, the Chief Engineer at the JPL, has to say about the critical steps of landing a spacecraft on the Martian surface.

Computer Scientist by qualification who loves to read, write, eat, and travel

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