About a year from now, NASA’s newest mission, InSight, will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, in route to Mars. The expedition will examine the interior of the planet, in hopes of answering questions regarding how celestial bodies like our own rocky planet came to be.
InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport) will launch tentatively between March 4 and March 30, 2016. The spacecraft integration of its key instruments and component systems has begun, with several nations helping in this international project.
Four landing sites have already been carefully evaluated in a generally flat area known as “Elysium Planitia,” which is considered to be safe for InSight to land. The final selection of the landing site will be completed in the following months, although four degrees north latitude and 136 degrees east longitude is currently the most favored location. Other sites, however, will be considered if the current ones are found to have problems.
The sites are about 81 miles west-to-east by 17 miles north-to-south, so the InSight will have a 99 percent chance to land within it if it targets for the ellipse center. Different terrains are mapped in the candidate sites, with some being “etched,” “cratered,” and “smooth” – the chosen site having bigger proportions of the latter.
Earth’s tectonic activity, wherein the mantle recycles the crustal plates, is different from the properties seen on Mars. Thus, scientists are eager to assess its crust, mantle, and core. Data gathered after the probe’s initial landing date, which is set for September 28, 2016, will ultimately help determine the evolution of rocky planets, such as Earth, Venus, and Mars.
NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter reveals that the surface of the planet will be suitable for the probe, which will carry newly engineered equipment, made especially for the mission. The German Aerospace Center, for example, has provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) that is needed. The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) was also constructed with parts from the UK, US, Germany, and Switzerland by the French Space Agency.
Once the mission launches, a radio link connecting NASA’s Deep Space Network and InSight will give the data about the planets core, whether it’s molten or not.