NASA’s InSight Lander Checks In Halfway to Mars

NASA InSight Lander has successfully checked in halfway through its journey to Mars.
NASA’s InSight spacecraft encapsulated in its aeroshell drifts through space | Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Officials at NASA have confirmed that the InSight Mars Lander has travelled roughly half the distance on its way to the Red Planet.

The Mars InSight Lander was launched aboard an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base on May 5, 2018. In the 107 days since its launch, the InSight spacecraft has covered roughly 277 million kilometers (172 million miles). Over the next 96 days, the spacecraft will transverse the remaining 208 million kilometers (129 million miles) touching down in the Red Planet’s Elysium Planitia region on November 26, 2018.

During its journey to Mars, NASA ground controllers have conducted periodic testing of all InSights sub systems. In addition to reviewing the highly sensitive science equipment, engineers used the lander’s cameras to take a spacecraft “selfie” revealing the inside of its backshell.

“If you are an engineer on InSight, that first glimpse of the heat shield blanket, harness tie-downs and cover bolts is a very reassuring sight as it tells us our Instrument Context Camera is operating perfectly. The next picture we plan to take with this camera will be of the surface of Mars,” said Tom Hoffman, InSight Project Manager at JPL.

Science Aboard InSight

InSight is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. Once it touches down on the surface of Mars and begins operations, it will be the first mission to study the deep interior of the Red Planet. In addition to its cameras that will be used to capture the first images of the planet’s Elysium Planitia region, the lander carries three main scientific payloads: SEIS, HP3 and RISE.

The lander’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Struction (SEIS) is a six sensor seismometer. The seismometers will be used, much like it would on Earth to detect quakes. It is hoped that the SEIS will give researchers a glimpse into the internal activity of the Red Planet.

InSight’s Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) will utilise a self-hammering mechanical mole to burrow between 3 and 5 meters (10 to 16 feet) into the surface of Mars. Sensors along a tether connecting the mole to the lander and mounted to the mole itself will then be able to determine the precise amount of heat escaping the planet’s interior.

The final scientific payload aboard the lander is the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE). The equipment will utalise the lander’s radio connection with Earth to measure perturbations of the Red Planet’ rotation axis.

Together the SEIS, HP3 and RISE payloads will give researchers an unparalleled look at the interior of Mars.

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.