InSight lands now halfway Mars, on schedule for landing in November – Astronomy Now

NASA & # 39; s InSight Mars lander, nestled in a protective aeroshell, is now halfway the red planet. Image: NASA

NASA & # 39; s InSight spacecraft, en route to a landing on November 26 on Mars, was halfway through on August 6. All instruments have been tested and work well.

From 20 August, the spacecraft had traveled 172 million miles (277 million kilometers) since its launch 107 days ago. In another 98 days, it travels another 129 million miles (208 million kilometers) and enters the Elysium Planitia region of Mars, where it will be the first mission to study the deep interior of the Red Planet. InSight stands for Interior Exploration with Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

The InSight team uses the time before the spacecraft arrived on Mars to not only plan and practice for that critical day, but also to activate and control subsystems of spacecraft essential for cruise, landing and surface operations, including extremely sensitive scientific instruments.

InSight & # 39; s seismometer, which will be used to detect earthquakes on Mars, received a clean health certificate on July 19. The SEIS instrument (seismic experiment for inner structure) is a six-sensor seismometer that combines two types of sensors to measure ground movements over a wide range of frequencies. It gives scientists a window on the internal activity of Mars.

"We performed our last performance checks on July 19, which were successful," said Bruce Banerdt, head researcher of InSight of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA in Pasadena, California.

The team also controlled an instrument that will measure the amount of heat that escapes from Mars. After being placed on the surface, InSight & # 39; s Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument uses a self-hammering mechanical mole that digs in at a depth of 10 to 16 feet (3 to 5 meters). Measurements by sensors on the mole and on a scientific chain from the mole to the surface will provide the first precise determination of the amount of heat that escapes from the interior of the planet. The check consisted of switching on the main electronics for the instrument, carrying out checks of its instrument sensor elements, carrying out part of the internal heaters of the instrument and reading out the stored settings in the electronics module.

An artist's impression of the InSight lander on the surface of Mars. An extremely sensitive seismic instrument is seen on the left with a temperature probe that extends below the surface. Image: NASA

The third of InSight's three main investigations – Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE) – uses the spacecraft's radio link with Earth to assess disruptions of the Mars axis of rotation. These measurements can give information about the core of the planet.

"We have been using spacecraft radio since the launch day and our conversations with InSight have been very cordial, so we are also happy to join RISE," said Banerdt.

The lander's cameras also checked well and took a spaceship selfie from the inside of the backshell of the spacecraft. InSight project manager Tom Hoffman of JPL said: "If you are an InSight engineer, that first glimpse of the heat shield blanket, safety helmet covers and cover bolts is a very reassuring sight because it tells us that our instrument context camera works perfectly. to make this camera will be from the surface of Mars. "

If everything goes according to plan, the camera takes the first picture of Elysium Planitia minutes after InSight has hit Mars.

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