Over the past few years, NASA has sent some orbiters to study the atmosphere of the red planet. It has also launched rovers to examine its surface. This year, the agency has plans to look inside the Mars. It will launch the InSight Lander, carrying instruments to peer thru its rusty shell. It also includes a seismometer to identify “marsquakes.”
Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator as well as the geophysicist of InSight Lander said that they already got a hole that begins five meters under the surface and goes down to the center. Banerdt and his colleagues hope that the lander will be able to provide concrete clues to whether the planet hosted plate tectonics or not. They believe that all of what they have experienced to measure the crust, core and the mantle of the planet will be worthwhile and useful.
After finding the leak in the seismometer’s vacuum, the mission was close to cancellation. Fortunately, the launch was just postponed. The liftoff will take place by 2020. A planetary seismologist Philippe Lognone said that their mission is much better than they had 2 years ago.
After 4 decades, InSight marks the agency’s return to study planetary seismology. Long ago, its Apollo astronauts deployed effective seismometers that detected tremors or moonquakes, helping them identify the core of the Moon. There were also two Viking landers that carried the same tools. Despite the billions of funding, the first was a failure and the second sent unreliable signals. Both were not a success. Since then, many institutions in the space industry had ambitious efforts to put a range of seismic stations on the red planet.
The lander was built on similar platform as the Phoenix Lander in 2008. It will utilize parachutes as well as retrorockets to reach the surface of the Mars. Its landing site is a plain of lava, which is close to the equator. “Possibly the most boring site in a planet,” Banerdt says. For that reason, InSight has more chances of doing its job well.
That is why the team chose a site without high landing hazards. The planet has a tropical location, providing enough sunlight for the solar panels of the probe. After its craft touches down in November, its arm will deploy a seismometer (a volleyball size) and a heat probe to drive a rod into its surface. It has thousands of strokes made from a tungsten hammer.