NASA’s InSight Mars lander has passed a major milestone on its way to launch. The lander successfully completed Thermal Vacuum (TVAC) testing at a Lockheed Martin Space System Co. facility last week.
“Almost a two-week-long test, thermal vacuum testing is the most comprehensive and stressing test you can perform on a fully assembled spacecraft prior to its launch,” said InSight assembly, test and launch operations manager at Lockheed Martin, Scott Daniels.
TVAC testing simulates a harsh space-like environment using a depressurised chamber. Once the chamber is sealed and depressurised, InSight was put through a battery of test to ensure that all its systems would survive the six-month journey to Mars.
With TVAC testing complete, Lockheed Martin will now begin to prepare InSight for shipping and integration with the launch vehicle.
The launch of InSight has been given a five-week window that will open on May 5, 2018. The lander will be launched aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 from the Vandenberg Air Force Base. It will, as a result, be the first interplanetary mission to be launched from the West Coast. Traditionally, the East Coast offers more favourable trajectories for such a missions. However, due to the small size of the lander, the enormous power of the Atlas V will be more than enough to compensate.
Although scheduled for a 2018 launch, the InSight lander was originally slated for a late 2015 launch. The launch had to be halted at the last second after a leak from one of the vacuum chambers surrounding InSight’s SEIS instruments was discovered. As favourable alignments between Mars and Earth only occur once every 26 months, the launch of NASA’s latest addition to their Mars fleet had to be delayed by years.
InSight is the fifth lander Lockheed Martin has developed for NASA, the first being Viking 1 in the 1970s. On July 20, 1976, Viking 1 would become the first ever lander to ever touchdown on the surface of the Red Planet.
Image Credit: Lockheed Martin