InSight, built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, is managed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA. The InSight mission was originally selected in 2012 with a budget of $675 million. Their first target launch was actually in May 2016, but it got postponed due to a vacuum leak in one of their primary instruments called SEIS (described later in the article). The delay brought in additional cost of $153.8 million apparently, since the instrument demanded an all new thermal enclosure to be designed and built from scratch.
With all the hiccups fixed, it is just four weeks to NASA’s InSight Mars lander to get launched to Mars, as per plan. Thus, final touch-ups are being done to it in a clean room at the Vandenberg Air Force Base. It will be launched in an Atlas V rocket on 5th of May. InSight actually stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. It aims to unearth the inner secrets of Mars.
InSight plans to target a flat plain for landing in Mars, closer to its equator called Elysium Planitia. The landing is expected to happen in Nov. 26 of 2018. Coming to physical dimensions, this spacecraft weighs 794 pounds and the science deck height is between 33-43 inches. The overall spacecraft length is close to 20 feet.
Once in Mars, a robotic arm of the spacecraft will pick up instruments (seismometer and heat flow probe) from the top of the spacecraft and place them on Mars land to take measurements of the interior details of the planet (crust thickness, core size and core density).
Other than the two main instruments mentioned above, there are other instruments that will be there in the spacecraft:
- A weather package to note temperature, atmospheric pressure, and wind speed of the landing site.
- A magnetometer also will find use in checking the magnetic field of the planet.
- A radio science instrument known as Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE) to measure the planet’s rotation with the help of X-band radio waves.
With weeks for its launch, last week the spacecraft had a wet spin balance test to check balance of the spacecraft for its launch, entry, descent as well as landing.
The InSight team preferred he launch from the West Coast due to lighter traffic conditions in this part of the country when compared to the east coast.