NASA’s InSight Mars lander made a textbook touchdown on the surface of the Red Planet yesterday. After a tense few minutes, operators back on Earth received a strong signal from the lander at 01:30 UTC this morning (20:30 EDT Nov 26).
The signal received from InSight confirmed that its twin solar arrays had been deployed. With a strong signal and confirmation that the lander will be able to charge its batteries each day, the first phase of InSight’s 2-year primary mission has been completed successfully.
“The InSight team can rest a little easier tonight now that we know the spacecraft solar arrays are deployed and recharging the batteries,” said Tom Hoffman, InSight’s project manager at JPL. “It’s been a long day for the team. But tomorrow begins an exciting new chapter for InSight: surface operations and the beginning of the instrument deployment phase.”
InSight’s two solar arrays are each 2.2 meters (7 feet) wide. When open, the panels provide the lander with between 600 to 700 watts on a clear day. To put that into context, in the average household that would barely be enough power for a blender. It’s, however, more than enough to power the full suite of InSight’s onboard instruments.
In addition to the lander, two CubeSats MarCO-A and MarCo-B joined InSight on its trip to Mars. Nicknamed EVE and Wall-E (in reference to the 2008 Disney movie Wall-E) by engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the pair became the first CubeSats to travel beyond Earth’s orbit. The two communications-relay CubeSats were built by JPL “to quickly transmit status information about InSight as it lands on Mars.”