Marsquakes mission reaches the red planet


Marsquakes mission reaches the red planet

Press release
From: UK Space Agency
Posted: Monday, November 26, 2018

A Mars mission, backed by the UK Space Agency, has landed successfully and will soon begin the first study of the heart of the planet.
The NASA InSight mission landed at 19:53 GMT on Monday, November 26.

InSight will study the interior of Mars to learn how planets, moons, and meteorites with rocky surfaces, including the Earth and its Moon, form. The probe instruments include a seismograph to detect "Marsquakes" and a probe to monitor the flow of heat below the surface of the planet.

The UK Space Agency invested £ 4 million in the short-lived seismograph (SEIS-SP). This will be on the surface of Mars to measure the seismic waves of Marsquakes. Scientists hope to detect between a dozen and a hundred such tremors up to 6.0 on the Richter scale over two years.

Sue Horne, Head of Space Exploration at the UK Space Agency, said: "It's wonderful news that the InSight spacecraft has landed safely on Mars. UK scientists and engineers involved in this mission have committed themselves for several years to building the seismograph on board, and the descent is always a worrying time. We can now await the deployment of the instrument and the data that will begin to arrive in the new year to improve our understanding of how the planet formed. "

InSight carries three instruments designed and built in the UK as part of the seismic package. These microseismometer sensors were developed by Imperial College London and integrated with electronics built by Oxford University.

The UK team is led by Professor Tom Pike at Imperial who designed the sensors to withstand the shock and vibration of Earth's launch and landing on Mars. Sensors can detect motion on subatomic scales with the help of electronics built in Oxford under the support of Dr. Simon Calcutt with support from STFC RAL Space.

The Prof. Tom Pike said: "We were able to turn on the microseismometers during the cruise to Mars and they performed perfectly, showing that they survived the rigors of launch when they left Earth. But every landing on Mars is risky and we were waiting nervously for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to get the first signal back from the successful landing. "

The probe will take several weeks to deploy two of its three instruments, the seismometer and the probe on the Martian surface. The UK will have a team of instrumental scientists from Imperial and Oxford at JPL, California, to assist in this process, including selecting the right location for the robot's arm to deposit the seismometer.

Prof. Pike added, "We should be watching Marsquakes for at least two years, and we wait for a considerably longer time. It is critical that we define the instrument in the best location to ensure stability and then follow up with the addition of a cover to protect our sensors from the wind. "

The instrument team will be joined by British seismologists from Bristol, led by Dr. Nick Teanby, Imperial, led by Professor Gareth Collins, and Oxford, led by Dr. Neil Bowles, to analyze data from all instruments of the mission.

Dr. Neil Bowles of the University of Oxford Physics Department said: "The InSight SEIS-SP is one of the most sensitive and challenging instruments for space flight in Oxford. Following the launch in May and successful instrument checks during the cruise to Mars, the team is absolutely delighted to watch the landing. We have shown that a traditionally delicate scientific instrument is capable of being launched on a rocket and the next challenge is to see how it behaves on the surface of the planet.

"With our partners at Imperial College London, STFC RAL Space and the UK Space Agency, getting the SEIS-SP seismograph mounted and qualified for the flight was a significant effort. After almost a decade of preparation, construction, and testing, we are incredibly excited that science can now begin. "

The mission, which took off from California in May this year, will conduct six scientific investigations on and below the surface of Mars to discover the evolutionary history that has shaped all the rocky planets in the inner solar system.

Anna Horleston, a researcher at the University of Bristol, said: "I studied seismic data from around the world but having the chance to study data from Mars is just something else. To finally see it come and test our techniques on real Martian seismic data is very exciting. "

The UK instrument will work in conjunction with seismographs from France, as well as important contributions from Switzerland, Germany and the USA. Other onboard instruments include RISE, a precision lander radio tracking that can determine the direction and motion of the Mars rotation and HP3 (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe) that will study the heat flow by incorporating a temperature sensor under the surface. of Mars.

InSight means Exploring Interiors using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

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