Watch the Mars InSight launch live online as NASA begins its next mission to the Red Planet
Almost six years since NASA’s Curiosity Rover landed on Mars to study its surface and terrain, the space agency is set to launch its next mission to learn more about the Red Planet’s interior.
Watch the Mars InSight launch
The Mars InSight lander will launch from the US Air Force Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on 5 May, at 4:05am PDT (12:05pm BST). The two-hour launch window will see InSight – Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport – take off aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.
The early-morning lift-off will be the first time an interplanetary launch will leave from the West Coast. The ULA rocket will journey over the Channel Islands off the California Coast and over the Pacific. InSight’s Atlas will reach orbit approximately 13 minutes after launch, when the rocket is 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometres) northwest of Isabella Island, Ecuador.
Coverage of the Mars InSight launch starts at 3:30 am PDT (11.30am BST) and it will streamed on NASA TV, NASA.gov/live, YouTube.com/NASAJPL/live and Ustream.tv/NASAJPL. On-demand recordings will also be available after the live events have finished on the YouTube and Ustream pages.
The official countdown started on 4 May 10:14 pm PDT (Saturday, 5 May, 6:14 am BST.) An hour later, the 260ft-tall (80-metre) Mobile Service Tower – a structure designed to protect the Atlas V launch vehicle and its InSight payload during assembly – began its 20-minute long, 250-ft (about 80-metre) roll away from the Atlas.
Four hours and 25 minutes later, the launch window opens. If InSight fails to launch as planned, the launch window will remain in place until 8 June, with multiple opportunities of approximately two hours each time. Whichever date the launch occurs, InSight’s landing on Mars is planned for 26 November, 2018, around noon PST (7pm GMT).
What is Mars InSight?
NASA has successfully placed eight landers on the planet since the Viking 1 mission in 1976. Each mission has been designed to learn more about the planet, and each using more advanced technology.
NASA’s Mars InSight’s particular mission is to study the deep interior of Mars in a bid to learn more about how rocky planets formed. Mars formed at a similar time, relatively speaking, to Earth and learning more about the origins and interior of Mars will shed light on how our planet, and its moon, formed.
Mars InSight sensors
The Mars InSight lander has three main instruments on board – the SEIS, HP3, and RISE. They will study what NASA calls “fingerprints of the process of planet formation, buried deep in the Martian interior.” These measurements will reveal how warm and geologically active Mars is, and give clues to how the planet evolved. Other sensors include an instrument deployment arm and camera, a UHF antenna, a grapple, pressure inlet and temperature and wind sensors.
The seismometer, or SEIS, will measure the planet’s “pulse”. Developed by Philippe Lognonné and his team at the Institute of Earth Physics of Paris, SEIS works like a seisometer on Earth, measuring vibrations caused by the internal activity of Mars. These vibrations can be used to effectively map the interior and peer into the crust, mantle and core. Knowing what we do about Earth’s seismic activity, we can infer what seismic activity is like on Mars, being dubbed marsquakes, and how these marsquakes have helped shaped the planet.
HP3 stands for the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe and, as the name suggests, will be used to plot Mars’ temperature. It’s been built by a team from the German Aerospace Centre in Berlin, led by Tilman Spohn.
The probe can burrow 16ft (five metres) below Mars’ surface, deeper than any previous arms, scoops, drills or probes that have been on the planet before, and will study the flow of heat as it moves through the body of Mars. It will also be used to establish where the heat is coming from. This will helps scientists determine whether Mars formed from the same material as Earth and the moon, or unlock clues to why the planet doesn’t have the same composition as our own.
InSight’s Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment, or RISE, measures Mars’ “reflexes”. It will track the location of the lander to determine how much Mars’ North Pole “wobbles” as it orbits the sun. This will unlock clues about the size of magnetic forces around the planet and information on the size of Mars’ iron-rich core. RISE can plot the lander’s location to the nearest centimetre and sends back signals to Earth via the Deep Space Network.
Mars InSight Mission timeline
InSight is scheduled to launch in May 2018, followed by six months of cruise to Mars, arrival, and Mars surface operations.
|Pre-Launch||Preparing for the mission includes pre-project planning, science definition and instrument selection, landing site selection, assembly and testing, and delivery of the spacecraft to Vandenberg Air Force Base.|
|Launch||Liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base on an Atlas V-401 rocket is scheduled for May 2018, in the pre-dawn hours. This is the first interplanetary launch from the west coast.|
|Cruise||The time between InSight’s launch and arrival at Mars is called the cruise phase of the mission. This part of the trip takes about six months.|
|Approach||The approach phase begins about 60 days before landing with a series of checkouts.|
|Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL)||The EDL phase is InSight’s final plunge through the Martian atmosphere. It lasts about six minutes and delivers the lander safely to the surface.|
|Surface Ops||After a safe landing, InSight deploys its instruments in preparation for surface operations. The lander begins its day-to-day science activities about 30 days into the mission.|