Like any dutiful creation, NASA's Mars InSight spacecraft has promised to call home as it safely arrives at its destination on November 26.
But it will not be a detailed conversation, and NASA engineers can not really be sure when the call will arrive – or even come from the InSight landing module. All told, the team has developed five separate communication routes that will help Earthlings track the progress of their creation on the Red Planet.
InSight itself can produce two types of simple signals. During the landing process, it will produce stationary radio wave tones, which are affected by the simple landing process – its frequency will change as the spacecraft deploy its parachute and decrease rapidly, for example. [NASA’s Mars InSight Lander: 10 Surprising Facts]
Once landed, InSight will produce two more headlight signals, separated by 7 minutes and at different wavelengths. If engineers can capture the second of these two signals, which is particularly strong, they will be particularly pleased, since it means InSight is probably in good condition. However, it will be hours before they hear if the probe unfolded its solar panels without news.
But as they are dealing with interplanetary travel, the engineers have built on three possible alternative means of hearing from InSight, relying on other spacecraft on Mars. InSight's small companions, the two cubes that make up the Mars Cube One project, or MarCO, will reach the Red Planet with the probe.
Marco's engineers expect them to have the ability to narrate the entire landing process for those of us on Earth, including the first InSight photograph. But because the Marco satellites are the first cubes to leave the orbit of Earth, the team can not be sure that they will act as planned.
Fortunately, there are two larger, greyest NASA spacecraft orbiting Mars that will also be on hand to report the big day: the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Odyssey 2001. The first will be particularly useful for tracking the entire landing process if something goes wrong, while the second will confirm that the probe's solar panels have opened properly.
Of course, the problem of relying on so many different means of communication – and with Mars being 91 million miles (146 million kilometers) as InSight land – is that even if everything goes well, we humans will be receiving scattered updates as events unfold. unrolled.
NASA may know immediately that InSight has succeeded, or it may take hours. We'll just have to wait and see.