Watch the landing here:
NASA’s Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) landed on the surface of Mars on Tuesday, 27 November, at 1:24 IST. It tweeted a picture from the red planet.
This will be the first thorough checkup of the red planet since it was formed about 4.5 billion years ago. The InSight will deploy a seismometer (instrument that measures ground movement) and burrow a heat probe to study the planet.
The InSight was launched on 5 May and it will be NASA’s first Mars landing since the Curiosity rover in 2012.
Apart from studying Mars, it will also help scientists understand the formation and early evolution of all rocky planets, including Earth, Mercury, Venus and Mars itself.
Upon landing, InSight will have cruised 301,223,981 miles (484,773,006 km) at a top speed of 6,200 mph (10,000 kph).
Upon landing, the InSight lander will use a robotic arm to put instruments on the surface – the seismometer will listen for 'Marsquakes' and a burrowing heat probe will dig into the planet's surface.
Media reports suggest that the InSight lander must survive the "seven minutes of terror" in order to make the landing successfully.
‘Seven Minutes of Terror’
As with previous surface missions, InSight must survive the "seven minutes of terror" – the time it takes for a probe entering Mars' thin atmosphere at hypersonic speed to slow to walking pace and gently put itself on the ground.
Seven minutes is the time it takes for a probe to touch the ground after entering the planet's atmosphere. According to a BBC a, the lander will slow down from 20,000 kmph to zero in these seven minutes, with only the US being able to pull off a landing, where many other countries like China, Russia, and India have failed.
The process of entering the atmosphere till landing on surface is called Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL).
According to NASA, it takes thousands of steps to go from the top of the atmosphere till the surface. Before entering the atmosphere, the space capsule has to align itself in order to make the heat shield face the planet.
The capsule has to enter the atmosphere at a very shallow angle of 12 degrees – any steeper and it will hit the thicker part of the atmosphere and melt; any shallower, and it will simply bounce off.
The Landing Spot
Elysium Planitia – the site chosen for the landing of InSight – is plain land, as opposed to the picturesque visuals of the planet we got from the Curiosity rover.
The plain surface also has a purpose behind it, as this interior exploration program requires a plain site to be able to dig into the surface of the planet.
NASA says that the team needed a landing site that checked off several boxes, because the InSight lander is a three-legged lander – not a rover. It will stay at a single spot rather than moving around.
The scientists also wanted a site that is bright enough and warm enough to power the InSight's solar cells.
To know more about InSight’s landing, watch the video by NASA below:
According to NASA, the InSight Mars lander has two objectives:
- Formation and Evolution: Understand the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets through investigation of the interior structure and processes of Mars.
- Tectonic Activity: Determine the present level of tectonic activity and meteorite impact rate on Mars.
MarCOs - Briefcase Sized Spacecrafts to Accompany InSight
Apart from the InSight lander, two mini-spacecrafts called Mars Cube One, or MarCO, are also on their way to Mars behind the InSight space capsule as a separate experiment in itself. This is the first deep space mission for briefcase-sized spacecraft.
The MarCOs will try to relay data from InSight as it enters Mars’ atmosphere.
If the MarCOs make it to Mars, they will attempt to relay data from InSight as it enters the Martian atmosphere and lands. If successful, this could represent a new kind of communication capability to Earth.
How Will NASA Know About the Landing
NASA's InSight team will be monitoring the Mars lander's radio signals using a variety of spacecraft — and even radio telescopes here on Earth.
As the InSight lander descends into Mars' atmosphere, it will broadcast simple radio signals called "tones" back to Earth.
The MarCOs (Briefcase-sized spacecrafts), if they perform as they are supposed to, will transmit the whole story of EDL as it unfolds.