While in the landed configuration for the last time before arriving on Mars, NASA's InSight lander was commanded to deploy its solar arrays to test and verify the exact process that it will use on the surface of the Red Planet. During the test on Jan. 23, 2018, from the Lockheed Martin clean room in Littleton, Colorado, engineers and technicians evaluated that the solar arrays fully deployed and conducted an illumination test to confirm that the solar cells were collecting power. The fan-like solar panels are specially designed for Mars' weak sunlight, caused by the planet's distance from the Sun and its dusty, thin atmosphere. The panels will power InSight for at least one Martian year (two Earth years) for the first mission dedicated to studying Mars' deep interior.
InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is a Mars lander designed to give the Red Planet its first thorough checkup since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. It is the first outer space robotic explorer to study in-depth the "inner space" of Mars: its crust, mantle and core. Studying Mars' interior structure may answer key questions about the early formation of rocky planets in our inner solar system - Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars - more than 4 billion years ago, as well as rocky exoplanets. InSight also will measure tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on Mars today.
InSight is scheduled to launch in May 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
NASA's next mission to Mars passed a key test Tuesday, extending the solar arrays that will power the InSight spacecraft once it lands on the Red Planet this November.
The test took place at Lockheed Martin Space just outside of Denver, where InSight was built and has been undergoing testing ahead of its launch. The mission is led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"This is the last time we will see the spacecraft in landed configuration before it arrives at the Red Planet," said Scott Daniels, Lockheed Martin InSight Assembly, Test and Launch Operations (ATLO) Manager. "There are still many steps we have to take before launch, but this is a critical milestone before shipping to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California." The InSight launch window opens in May.
The fan-like solar panels are specially designed for Mars' weak sunlight, caused by the planet's distance from the Sun and its dusty, thin atmosphere. The panels will power InSight for at least one Martian year (two Earth years) for the first mission dedicated to studying Mars' deep interior. InSight's full name is Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.
"Think of InSight as Mars' first health checkup in more than 4.5 billion years," said Bruce Banerdt of JPL, the mission's principal investigator. "We'll study its pulse by 'listening' for marsquakes with a seismometer. We'll take its temperature with a heat probe. And we'll check its reflexes with a radio experiment."
In addition to the solar panel test, engineers added a final touch: a microchip inscribed with more than 1.6 million names submitted by the public. It joins a chip containing almost 827,000 names that was glued to the top of InSight back in 2015, adding up to a total of about 2.4 million names going to Mars. "It's a fun way for the public to feel personally invested in the mission," Banerdt said. "We're happy to have them along for the ride."
The chips were inscribed at JPL's Microdevices Laboratory, which has added names and images to a number of spacecraft, including the Mars Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers. Each character on the InSight microchips is just 400 nanometers wide. Compare that to a human hair, 100,000 nanometers wide, or a red blood cell, 8,000 nanometers wide.
Technicians huddle near NASA's InSight Mars lander to give the go-ahead for testing of the craft's solar arrays.
LITTLETON, Colo. – NASA's next Mars lander is in the final phases of preparation before heading to California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, where it will become the first interplanetary mission ever to launch from that site.
The InSight Mars lander (the name is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) recently underwent its last checkouts here at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., which built the spacecraft for NASA. The spacecraft is scheduled to launch on May 5 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and arrive on Mars in late November.
Take a look with us at the final testing for the next robot to land on Mars.
Credit: Barbara David
On Jan. 23, engineers unfurled InSight's solar arrays in a landmark test.
Technicians in clean-room garb carefully monitored the arrays as the arrays were fanned out in two large circles. The sequence started with loud pops as heaters on InSight warmed up the paraffin wax that releases the arrays. Then deployment motors kicked in, clicking and locking the arrays into place in a few minutes' time.
The test verified the exact process InSight will carry out on the surface of Mars after it lands. By using a tower of bright lights to illuminate the arrays, test engineers confirmed that the arrays were churning out power.
"This was our last major test before we start building up into a launch configuration," said Scott Daniels, manager of the assembly, test and launch operations (ATLO) phase for InSight at Lockheed Space. Following the test, the dual arrays will be re-stowed for the spacecraft's trip to Mars.
Space.com's Leonard David, on the floor with the Mars-bound InSight spacecraft, talks with Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator.
InSight passed its solar-array test with flying colors, Daniels said.
"This test worked really successfully. It was the cleanest run that we've done. We verified that we can draw power on the arrays, we verified telemetry, and everything looks nominal," he added. "Mechanical inspections looked really good and clean. Everything happened when it was supposed to happen." [The Best (and Worst) Mars Landings Ever]
The next phase for InSight involves attaching its three landing legs, a parachute cone, a backshell and other hardware.
"One month from now we're going to be all stacked up in the launch configuration and inside a shipping container headed out to California," Daniels said.
InSight's roughly 30-day launch window opens May 5, when the lander will be boosted into space atop an Atlas V 401 rocket. After a six-month journey through space, InSight will make a rocket-powered touchdown on Mars on Nov. 26. The landing zone is within a flat stretch of western Elysium Planitia, near the Martian equator.
The upcoming trip to Vandenberg will be InSight's second trek to California.
In December 2015, NASA called off InSight's original launch attempt planned for 2016. That no-go decision was sparked by unsuccessful attempts to repair a leak in the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), a seismometer provided by France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) – the French space agency.
SEIS is critical to InSight's on-the-planet duties. But during testing, the instrument failed to hold a vacuum.
Engineers with CNES and JPL combined their expertise to fix the SEIS woes.
Today, InSight's SEIS instrument is working just fine. Just ask Bruce Banerdt, InSight mission principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory(JPL) in Pasadena, California. He was on hand at Lockheed Space for the recent solar array test.
"I'm ecstatic," Banerdt told Space.com. "Everything has been coming together really smoothly."
The testing of SEIS, the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), provided by the German Space Agency, as well as the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), led by JPL, have gone flawlessly, Banerdt said.
"The spacecraft has performed without a hitch. It has been like clockwork," Banerdt said. "I come out here and look at it every once in a while, just because it gives me goosebumps. But mostly I try to stay out of the way of the people who are actually doing the work of putting InSight together.
"I'm in awe of the job they've done," he said.
THESE intricate solar panels will help unlock the deepest secrets of Mars. They were opened in a test facility at Lockheed Martin’s Space division in Colorado as part of a check of NASA’s InSight lander. The craft is due to blast off on its journey to the surface of the Red Planet in May.
If it lands successfully six months later at Elysium Planitia, a plain straddling the Martian equator, there will be a 16-minute pause to let the dust settle before the photovoltaic arrays unfold like delicate Japanese fans. This design minimises mass and volume in flight, but will maximise the panels’ efficacy on Mars, where the sun’s intensity is a third of that on Earth. Both panels are about 2.2 metres in diameter and their solar cells are similar to those used on Earth, but specifically tuned for the limited light on Mars. In optimum conditions there, they will feed 600 to 700 watts of electricity to the craft’s batteries.
That store of energy will be vital to InSight’s two-year mission. Short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, it is a static lab packed with instruments designed to probe the guts of Mars. Because the planet’s interior calmed more rapidly than that of Earth, its ancient internal structures are much better preserved, and will tell us a lot about how the core, mantle and crust of rocky planets form.
A million-years-old rock is flying home.
The ancient rock, named “Sayh al Uhaymir 008,” or “SaU008,” was once part of one of a meteorite that landed on Earth after blowing off from Mars millions of years ago.
SaU008 was discovered in Oman in 1999 and is the only one of 200 similar rocks that’s strong enough to withstand the journey back home, according to NASA.
“Every year, we provide hundreds of meteorite specimens to scientists all over the world to for study,” Caroline Smith, the principal curator of meteorites at London’s Natural History Museum – which provided the rock, said in the press release. “This is a first for us: sending one of our samples back home for the benefit of science.”
The meteorite piece will head back to Mars as part of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission. Once it arrives, SaU008 will be blown to bits in order to calibrate a high-precision laser named ‘SHERLOC’ that will be positioned on the rover’s robotic arm.
SHERLOC is being designed to examine rock and chemical features as fine as human hair and will need something to help it get its bearings on the alien planet. In the past, NASA has used rocks, metals and pieces of glass to help adjust similar technology to its new martian surroundings.
But this time around, NASA thought it might be more effective to use something that already has the same composition as the planet SHERLOC is being designed to explore.
“We’re studying thing on such a fine scale that slight misalignments, caused by changes in temperature or even the rover settling into sand, can require us to correct our aim,” Luther Beegle, NASA’s principal investigator, said. “By studying how the instrument sees a fixed target, we can understand how it will see a piece of the Martian surface.”
Once the laser is adjusted, it will photograph rocks on Mars and use a UV light to analyze and search for signs of life.
Quelle: New York Post
NASA's next generation Mars rover will use a Martian meteorite to calibrate its detectors.
In two years, NASA will launch its most advanced Mars explorer yet: the Mars2020 rover, which will explore the Red Planet for signs of life. Aboard the rover will be dozens of high-tech instruments designed to measure everything about Mars, plus a piece of the planet itself: NASA is reporting that Mars2020 will carry a fragment of a meteorite that originally came from Mars.
The meteorite, Sayh al Uhaymir 008 (SaU008), was discovered in Oman in 2008, and was likely blasted off the surface of Mars millions of years ago. After drifting through space for who knows how long, it finally landed on Earth. These types of meteorites are extremely rare, with only about 200 confirmed by The Meteorological Society.
So why send one to Mars? In part, it’s a sentimental artifact, similar to the Voyager golden records. But it also serves an important piece of scientific equipment. As part of the Mars2020 mission, the rover will be analyzing the chemical makeup of Martian rocks, and the machines it uses needs to be calibrated.
In particular, Mars2020 comes equipped with a laser that can illuminate features smaller than a human hair in Martian rocks. This laser will allow the rover to identify different types of rocks and piece together events in the geologic history of Mars.
Such a device is incredibly sensitive, which means it requires frequent calibration. “We're studying things on such a fine scale that slight misalignments, caused by changes in temperature or even the rover settling into sand, can require us to correct our aim,” says Luther Beegle of JPL.
So, the rover needs an object that it can use to calibrate its devices, which is the role that SaU008 is going to fill. Previous Mars rovers have used rocks, glass, and metal for calibration, but the Mars2020 team wanted something different. They decided to bring along their own Mars rock to keep the laser working.
So when the Mars2020 rover touches down on the Martian surface in a few years, it will be the first to bring a piece of Mars back home. A tiny rock that has traveled millions of miles to get here will be sent back where it came from, and when it gets there it’ll help us learn even more about our tiny planetary neighbor.
A brief history of Martian exploration – as the InSight Lander prepares to launch
Roughly every two years Mars and Earth wander a bit closer to each other, making the leap between these two planets a little easier. In July this year, Mars will only be about 58 million kilometres away – and NASA is set to take advantage by launching their next mission to the red planet in May 2018. The InSight Lander, will be the first Mars mission to investigate the planet’s “inner space”, and will listen for marsquakes to investigate the crust, mantle, and core.
InSight will join two rovers currently exploring the surface of Mars, and 14 spacecraft that are in orbit about it – albeit only six of which are currently sending us data.
Why does Mars, the red planet, have such a hold over us?
There are, after all, seven (or eight) other planets to explore – and yet we seem to have such a hang up on this one.
I guess it’s the tantalising nature of Mars. Here is a planet that we could conceivably walk on (unlike the gas giants), without being crushed by atmospheric pressure (like on Venus), having to deal with the radiation of being closer to the sun (Mercury) or just being far too far away (like Pluto). It calls to us through science fiction and fact, a planet that is so like our own Earth, but so unlike it at the same time.
The six current operational missions show that the fascination with Mars isn’t limited to one country, as European, Russian, American and Indian space agencies all have stakes in these crafts.
For comparison: our other nearest neighbour, Venus, only has one spacecraft currently in orbit about it, Akatsuki the spacecraft that wouldn’t quit. In fact, after the dramatic ending of the Cassini spacecraft, the only other planet currently being orbited by an Earth-built satellite is Jupiter, with the Juno mission.
But, while our progress to walking on Mars has been very slow, our progress in understanding our neighbour has been really quite impressive. When I started my planetary science degree in 2001, the course did not include sedimentology, the branch of geology that investigates how water has shaped rocks. It was deemed there was no point as no water has been seen on any other planet.
By the time I was in third year, the first years students behind me were getting well versed in how water could push around sand, silt and clay on other planets.
Finding water on Mars had been an obsession to many, and thanks to data from Mars rovers Spirit, Opportunity and latterly Curiosity we know that it’s there – just trapped in the rocks. A couple of years ago it was thought that we had even found water flowing on the surface of Mars, but that evidence is (ahem) drying up now.
However, whether the water flows or is trapped in the rocks, the next question is where is the rest of it? If many of the rocks we see on Mars had been laid down by water - where is that water now?
The answer would be tangled up with the fate of Mars’s atmosphere. Though pitifully thin now, it must have been thick enough in the past to support flowing water on the surface. The mission of the spacecraft Maven (along with others) has been investigating this question - and all evidence is pointing to the Sun as the culprit for Mars’ missing atmosphere, with the solar wind gradually stripping it away.
It’s often touted that we know more about the surface of Mars than we do the bottom of our own oceans – and in terms of mapping resolution that’s true. Through the efforts of four orbiting missions we know how old most of the surface is, as well as how active it has been.
You can spend a joyful afternoon of procrastination flitting through HiRISE images that show sweeping dunes and pock-marked plains on Mars. With these images we can really apply our understanding of processes on Earth to what makes up the surface of Mars - from the formations of geological features, the movement of dust and sand and how the ice caps change through the seasons.
So we know there is water on Mars, we know where its atmosphere went and also the shifts of its sands – but there’s a missing piece of the puzzle. What’s on the inside?
To be fair, in this respect the interior of our own Earth is just as much of a mystery – but we have had centuries of seismic studies. From monitoring the passage of earthquakes through our planet we have built a picture of the layers that make up its interior. From that we’ve been able to undertake experiments that recreate the conditions and add more to that picture. At the moment we can only guess at the conditions within the interior of Mars – something that the InSight mission will answer.
After this, the next hurdle will be getting something back from Mars. We have a handful of meteorites that we know came from Mars, but having a sample that’s been collected and returned from a known location will priceless. NASA’s next rover, Mars 2020, will plan to do just this – but the return to Earth bit is still to be worked out.
From sample return to human exploration is still a massive step, and will require a number of innovations to get there. But with the knowledge we’ve built from the missions over the last decade, it’s becoming more of a reality.
Quelle: THE CONVERSATION