NASA Will Attempt to Use InSight’s Robotic Arm to Assist Stalled Instrument

NASA will attempt to fix a stalled InSight instrument on the Martian surface using the lander robotic arm.
The InSight Heat and Physical Properties Package deployed on the surface of Mars | Image credit: NASA

NASA will attempt to fix InSight’s stalled heat probe using the Mars Lander’s robotic arm after.

The InSight lander is a robotic mission to Mars designed to study the deep interior of the planet. It was launched aboard an Atlas V in May 2018 and touched down safely on the Martian seven months later.

After a period of testing, the lander utilised its robotic arm to deploy the Heat and Physical Properties Package probe, also known as the “mole,” to the planet’s surface. The mole is essentially a self-hammering spike that is designed to penetrate the Martian surface to a depth of around 5 meters (16 feet). The spike is surrounding by housing that supports it through the initial phase of hammering.

On February 28, operators commanded the mole to begin“digging”. Initially, it appeared to be working perfectly. However, after a couple of centimeters, the spike began to tilt and slow. Then at around 30 centimeters (12 inches), it stopped making progress altogether.

NASA believes that the mole’s progress has either been halted by an obstruction, like a rock or by loose soil, as it needs dense soil to function properly. However, it is difficult to ascertain what has happened without removing the support structure. As a result, NASA will first use the robotic arm to lift the support structure away carefully. It then plans to utilise a scoop attachment at the end of the arm to place pressure on the surface to give the mole the purchase it needs to continue burrowing, assuming that it is merely soft soil hindering its progress.

If it turns out, however, that it appears to an obstruction causing the problem, the agency will need to revisit the issue in an attempt to come up with a new plan of action.

“Engineers at JPL and DLR have been working hard to assess the problem,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “Moving the support structure will help them gather more information and try at least one possible solution.”

NASA plans to begin the lifting process in late June.


Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.