Project InSight

“Exploring and colonizing Mars can bring us new scientific understanding of climate change, of how planet-wide processes can make a warm and wet world into a barren landscape. By exploring and understanding Mars, we may gain key insights into the past and future of our own world.”– Buzz Aldrin

SRM Astrophilia
SRM Astrophilia

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The project InSight, primarily designed to study the deep interior of the planet Mars, was launched on 5 May 2018 at 11:05 UTC. At approximately 19:52:59 UTC on 26 November 2018, and after a journey of 485 million km, the robotic lander successfully landed Mars at the Elysium Planitia. The project is contemplated as Mars lander and MarCo(cubesats), with the former as the primary.

MARS LANDER

InSight was initially known as Geophysical Monitoring Station (GEMS). Its name was changed in early 2012 following a request by NASA. Not long back, the mission placed a single stationary lander on Mars to study its deep interior and address a fundamental issue of understanding the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner Solar System. The rocky inner planets share a common ancestry that begins with a process called accretion. As the body increases in size, its interior heats up and evolves to become a terrestrial planet, containing a core, mantle and crust. Despite this common ancestry, each of the terrestrial planets is later shaped and molded through a poorly understood process called differentiation.

Landing Sight of the rover

Objectives and payload:

The primary objective of the mission stands to study more on it. Following are the four instrumentation modules associated with it.

Illustration showing the interior of SEIS

SIES : Also called as the Seismic Experiment for interior structure, it constructs towards primary instrument of InSight. It is extremely sensitive that it can pick up even as slightest as wind vibrations, which perhaps contributed in the fall of the missions Viking 1 and Viking 2. This tripod-mounted seismometer bears the objective of precisely measuring the ‘Marsquakes’ and other such to study the planet’s internal structure. The deductions shall be matched and strengthened by further studying the meteorite impacts. Atmospheric waves and gravimeter signals from the moon Phobas, up to as high as 50 Hz, will fall in the scope of recording.

HP3 heat flow probe

HP3 : The Hear flow and Physical Properties Package features a self-penetrating probe to determine heat currents inside Mars. It is expected to reveal whether Mars and Earth formed from the same material and determine how active the interior of Mars is today. Together with the seismometer, it is built to claim the size and state (liquid or solid) of Mars’ core. Through it, NASA would be attempting an altogether novel approach to dig as deep as 5m below the surface and from there, employing the heat sensors for recording purposes. Hence, it is justifies that it is referred as “self-hammering nail”. Also, it has the nickname of “the mole”. For displacement, the mole uses a motor and a roller that periodically loads a spring connected to a rod that functions as a hammer; after release from the cam, the hammer accelerates downwards eventually hitting the outer casing and causing its penetration through the regolith, whereas a suppressor mass travels upwards and its kinetic energy is compensated by gravitational potential and compression of a brake spring and wire helix on the opposite side of the mole.

Animation of HP3 being deployed to the surface
Animation of HP3 mole burrowing into Mars.

RISE : Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment is a radio science module on-board the lander. It is designed to use the spacecraft communication system to provide measurements of the rotation and wobble of the planet. This study will help scientists understand why Mars has a comparatively weak magnetic field than that of Earth. It works the following way. Soon after landing, the lander reflects a signal from Earth and notifies itself about its exact location and motion in space. With each emission of similar bursts, the lander infers a different frequency while intercepting it. This deviation in frequency is explained by the Doppler shift. Through this, scientists understand how much Mars wobbles around the Sun, and thereby, nature of its iron-rich core.

TWINS : It abbreviates for Temperature and Winds for INSight. It is a meteorological suite of instruments containing thermometers, anemometer, InSight FluxGate magnetometer (IFG) and barometer. An anemometer is used to measure the wind speed and direction. A magnetometer is used to measure the magnitude and direction of magnetic fields. The corresponding data would be used to understand the local wind behavior at the landing site to help interpret to SEIS data. Further, the lander will use its cameras to document cirrus clouds that develop high above Elysium Planitia, any instances of fog that appear along the ground, as well as dust devils.

LaRRI : Laser RetroReflector for InSight is a corner cube retro-reflector mounted on InSight’s top deck. It will enable passive laser range-finding by orbiters even after the lander is retired, and would function as a node in a proposed Mars geophysical network.

IDA : Instrument Deployement Arm is a 2.4m robotic arm that will be used to deploy SIES and HP3 instruments to Mars’ surface. It also features the IDC camera.

Testing for Instrument Deployment by InSight’s Robotic Arm

MarCO (cubesats)

The lander was accompanied by MarCo on its journey for a flyby. The main mission of the cubesats was to test a new miniaturized communication and navigation technology. These were the first cubesats to go outside the Earth’s vicinity. In addition to serving as comm. relays, the components’ endurance and navigational capabilities was tested in deep space. These tests provide reliable technology upon which the future missions could be based on, rather than sticking to the conventional tech., which is indeed expensive.

First Author: Snehangsu Biswas

To contact the author click here.
Second Author : Soumya Shekhar

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