NASA's InSight Lander has set up its first instrument on the surface of Mars, completing an important milestone in the mission. New images from the lander show a seismometer on the ground, and the copper-colored cover is poorly lit in the Martian dusk. It looks like it's all calm and everything is great for InSight, going by the end of the year.
"The schedule of InSight's activities on Mars has gone better than we hoped," said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman, who is in NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Getting a seismometer safely on the ground is a great Christmas present."
The InSight team worked carefully to set up their two dedicated scientific instruments on Mars ground after landing on Mars on November 26th. In the meantime, the Rotation and Internal Structure Experiment (RISE), which does not have its own specific instrument, has already begun using the InSight radio link to Earth to collect preliminary data on the core of the planet. It took little time for scientists to conclude what they want to know – scientists estimate that they could have some results starting in about a year.
For the application of a seismometer (also known as Seismic Internal Structure Experiment or SEIS) and heat probes (also known as heat flow and physical property tests, or HP3), engineers first had to confirm that the robotic arm that picked up and installed InSight's instruments on Mars surface works properly. The engineers tested the lander commands, ensuring that the model in the test bed on the JPL deploys the instruments exactly as planned. The scientists also needed to analyze the images of the Mars field around the lander in order to find the best places to apply the instruments.
On Tuesday, December 18, InSight engineers sent commands to the spaceship. On Wednesday, December 19th, the seismometer is carefully placed on the ground directly in front of the lander, approximately as far as it can reach its hand – 5,367 feet, or 1,636 meters further.
"The seismometer's application is as important as landing on Mars," said InSight chief researcher Bruce Banerdt, also based in JPL. "Seismometer is an instrument of highest priority on InSight: we need to complete about three quarters of our scientific goals."
The Seismometer allows scientists to drag into the interior of Mars by studying the movement of the earth – also known as Marcus. Every Marquis acts as a kind of flashbulb that illuminates the structure of the interior of the planet. Analyzing how seismic waves pass through layers of the planet, scientists can conclude the depth and composition of these layers.
"Having a seismometer on the ground is like keeping your phone up to your ear," said Philippe Lognonne, SEIS's chief researcher at the Globe de Paris Institute for Physics (IPGP) and Paris Diderot Universiti. "We are delighted that we are now in the best position to listen to all the seismic waves beneath the surface of Mars and from its deep interior."
In the coming days, the InSight team will work on the leveling of the seismometer, located on a ground that is sloped 2 to 3 degrees. The first scientific data of the seismometer should begin to return to Earth after the seismometer is in the right position.
But engineers and scientists at the JPL, the French National Space Agency of the National Center of Itudes Spatiales (CNES) and other institutions linked to the SEIS team will need a few weeks to make sure that the data returned is as clear as possible. First, they will check and possibly adjust the long, wired connecting element of the seismometer to reduce the noise that could travel along it to the seismometer. Then, in early January, engineers expect to order a robotic arm to install Vind and Thermal Shield over a seismometer to stabilize the environment around the sensor.
Assuming that there are no unexpected problems, the InSight team plans to deploy a thermal probe to the surface of Mars by the end of January. HP3 will be located on the east side of the workspace of the lander, approximately at the same distance from the lander as a seismometer.
For now, however, the team focuses on getting the first pieces of seismic data (no matter how noisy) back from the surface of Mars.
"We look forward to drinking champagne when we start to get data from the InSight InSight on Earth," added Banerdt. "I have a bottle ready for that occasion."
JPL manages InSight for NASA's Mission for Scientific Mission in Washington. InSight is part of NASA's detection program, operated by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver has built an InSight spacecraft, including its cruising and lander phase, and supports missions for the mission.
Numerous European partners, including the HNOS and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), support the InSight mission. CNES was provided by SEIS NASA, with a major IPGP researcher. A significant contribution to SEIS came from the IPGP, the Mak Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, the Swiss Institute of Technology in Switzerland, the Imperial College and Okford Universities in the United Kingdom and the JPL. DLR provides a heat and physical heat pack (HP3) instrument, with a significant contribution from the Center for space exploration of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronomy in Poland. The Spanish Centro de Astrobiologia has delivered wind sensors.
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