Mission of the InSight, targeting Mars surface with lander equipped with special instruments for gathering data on seismic activity of Mars surface, has now official launch date.
On September 2, 2016, NASA announced about final approval for extending InSight program until launch in 2018 by Science Mission Directorate. Launch of the rocket with InSight is planned for 5th May, 2018 and landing on Mars surface is planned for 26th November 2018. Most significant change is modification of SEIS, main onboard scientific instrument of the lander. It will be conducted by Jet Propulsion Laboratory to ensure complete vacuum conditions for three sensors working inside SEIS container. CNES will be still responsible for sensors, assembling and integration. DLR will still work on Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument. NASA will also cover costs of the modification.
Planned originally for March this year, mission of the InSight (Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport) was one of the main missions to Mars created in the cooperation between NASA and two European space agencies. DLR and CNES (German and French space agencies), main players in ESA, decided to improve pace of their Mars exploration programs and started cooperation with NASA; agreement signed on February 2014 established roles of each Agency precisely – NASA was responsible for launch vehicle and lander design, CNES and DLR for onboard devices. Cooperation was developing extremely well and InSight was planned to be launched on March 2016 on atop of Atlas V. Unfortunately in the end of 2015 CNES announced about technical problems with main onboard research instrument – SEIS. Developed by team under supervision of Professor Philippe Lognonné at IPGP Paris, is high resolution seismometer with deployable sensor, which will dig into Mars surface. This instrument due its construction requires full vacuum inside spherical container; unfortunately on December 2015 French scientists spotted small leakage and SEIS was reported as not ready for launch. Due the lack of possibility of sealing SEIS in short time, launch was postponed to 2018. NASA and CNES had different discussion on financial aspect of mission (extended time of storing InSight was connected with increasing cost of the program) but finally NASA decided to participate in the program for next three years. NASA budget for InSight increased from $675 million to $828.8 million. This includes money for storing InSight lander and additional expenses necessary for successful continuing program.
On picture above: payload fairing waiting for InSight on December 2015.