Thursday , April 22 2021

Lander InSight is ready to arrive on Mars Monday

After traveling six months and millions of miles, NASA's Mars InSight probe is a few days away from its final destination.

The one-meter-high, 358-pound spacecraft is stationed on the Red Planet on Monday at 3pm. ET. It is sure to be a nail biting experience for the hundreds of people who worked on the mission.

It's easy to imagine the discomfort engineers will face during the six-and-a-half-mile descent to the Martian surface: of all missions to the Red Planet, only 40% succeeded.

"We were all trapped when we thought the spacecraft really landed," said Catherine Johnson, a professor at the University of British Columbia, who co-investigates the international team that will measure seismic activity on Mars using InSight.

Watch InSight's chief engineer, Rob Manning, explain what needs to work:

But the success rate has been improving. NASA's twin robots, Spirit and Opportunity, released in 2004, have long survived their original 90-day Martian mission, or sols. The spirit lasted 11 years. Opportunity is quiet after a dust storm of months, but not technically dead.

Then there's the Curiosity, released in 2011. It's still strong.

Landing place is "very boring and safe"

When it reaches Mars, InSight will have traveled nearly 500 million kilometers because it was not a direct voyage. Inside a protective casing, it will enter the fine Martian atmosphere at approximately 19,800 km / h. He will deploy a parachute and fire descent propellers, allowing him – hopefully – to gently touch his legs.

The spacecraft will land in the region of Elysium Planitia, near the equator of the planet, just 550 kilometers from Curiosity.

While spacecrafts have safely landed recently, this particular location is a bit challenging: it's at a higher elevation, which means the spacecraft can not use so much of Mars's thin atmosphere to slow down.

So why choose this point?

"Especially because it's very, very annoying and very safe," Johnson said.

The impression of an artist shows InSight entering the Martian atmosphere, about 128 kilometers above the surface. Six minutes later, the spacecraft is scheduled to stay on Mars. (NASA / JPL)

A flat, rock-free area is best suited for this geological mission where instruments can be deployed easily. If it were a rocky site, the seismograph and drill, otherwise known as The Mole, would not be able to do their jobs.

InSight is the first geological mission to the Red Planet. Over two years, using assorted instruments, it will measure seismic activity, or Marsquakes, as well as the planet's despicable magnetic field. It will also lead to the interior temperature of Mars.

"For those of us who actually study the interior of the planets, this is a really important mission," Johnson said. "We wanted to go to Mars for several decades now, so it's really exciting to be almost there."

The objectives of the mission will help scientists understand Mars and planetary formation, and this helps pave the way for knowledge of what may be ahead of human missions.

Orbiter can hear in

During the landing, Insight will send signals to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) in orbit of NASA and transmit the data when Earth is able to receive the signals.

There is also the possibility that two CubeSats, small flour-box-sized orbiters, the first of the type to make an interplanetary trip, will be listening. The Mars Cube One – actually two satellites – may be in a position to receive a signal and retransmit to Earth immediately.

Engineer Joel Steinkraus is with the two components of the Mars Cube One spacecraft in the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The one on the left is bent to stock its rocket; the one on the right has its solar panels fully installed, with its high gain antenna at the top. (NASA / JPL)

Back to Earth, two radio telescopes will be listening to the signal that will tell operators that InSight has arrived safely at the surface.

"We'll just be very happy when we get the little beep that says," Yeah, we're here, "Johnson said.

Watch the NASA feed on the CBC News landing from 2:00 p.m. ET. Monday.

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