NASA prepares to say “goodbye” to the Insight spacecraft that made history on Mars

This image is alternated between the first and last Insight selfies, for comparison purposes. Using the camera on its robotic arm, NASA’s InSight probe captured these selfies on December 6, 2018 – just 10 days after landing on Mars – and April 24, 2022. A thick layer of dust can be seen on the probe and its solar panels in the last image. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Take a closer look at what goes into completing a mission as the power supply to the InSight spacecraft continues to dwindle.

close end to[{” attribute=””>NASA’s Mars InSight lander. The day is fast approaching when the spacecraft will fall silent, ending its history-making mission to reveal secrets of the Red Planet’s interior. Since the spacecraft’s power generation continues to decline as windblown dust on its solar panels thickens, the engineering team has already taken steps to continue as long as possible with what power remains. Despite these efforts, it won’t be long now, as the end is expected to come in the next few weeks.

Although InSight’s tightknit 25-to-30-member operations team – a small group compared to other Mars missions – continues to squeeze the most they can out of InSight, they’ve also begun taking steps to wind down the mission.

Here’s a glimpse of what that looks like.

InSight First Selfie Mars

This is NASA InSight’s first full selfie on Mars. It displays the lander’s solar panels and deck. On top of the deck are its science instruments, weather sensor booms, and UHF antenna. The selfie was taken on December 6, 2018 (Sol 10). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Preserving Data

With InSight (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), the most important of the final steps of the mission is storing its trove of data and making it accessible to researchers around the world. Already, the data from the lander has yielded details about Mars’ interior layers, its liquid core, the surprisingly variable remnants beneath the surface of its mostly extinct magnetic field, weather on this part of Mars, and lots of quake activity. More insights are sure to follow, as scientists continue to sift through the data.

InSight’s seismometer, provided by France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes since the lander touched down in November 2018. The largest quake it detected measured a magnitude 5. It even recorded quakes from meteoroid impacts. Observing how the seismic waves from those quakes change as they travel through the planet offers an invaluable glimpse into Mars’ interior. Beyond that, these observations also provide a better understanding of how all rocky worlds form, including Earth and its Moon.

NASA InSight's Final Selfie

NASA’s InSight Mars lander took this final selfie on April 24, 2022, the 1,211th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The lander is covered with far more dust than it was in its first selfie, taken in December 2018, not long after landing. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Finally, we can see Mars as a planet with layers, with different thicknesses, compositions,” said Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, the mission’s principal investigator. “We’re starting to really tease out the details. Now it’s not just this enigma; it’s actually a living, breathing planet.”

The seismometer readings will join the only other set of extraterrestrial seismic data, from the Apollo lunar missions, in NASA’s Planetary Data System. They will also go into an international archive run by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, which houses “all the terrestrial seismic network data locations,” said JPL’s Sue Smrekar, InSight’s deputy principal investigator. “Now, we also have one on Mars.”

Smrekar said the data is expected to continue yielding discoveries for decades.

Rocket NASA InSight Lander Launch

The rocket that launched NASA’s InSight lander to Mars in 2018 is seen at Vandenberg Air Force Base, now called Vandenberg Space Force Base. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Charles Babir

Managing Power

Earlier this summer, the lander had so little power remaining that the mission turned off all of InSight’s other science instruments in order to keep the seismometer running. They even turned off the fault protection system that would otherwise automatically shut down the seismometer if the system detects that the lander’s power generation is dangerously low.

“We were down to less than 20% of the original generating capacity,” said Banerdt. “That means we can’t afford to run the instruments around the clock.”

Recently, after a regional dust storm added to the lander’s dust-covered solar panels, the team decided to turn off the seismometer altogether in order to save power. Now that the storm is over, the seismometer is collecting data again. However, the mission expects the lander only has enough power for a few more weeks.

Of the seismometer’s array of sensors, only the most sensitive were still operating, said Liz Barrett, who leads science and instrument operations for the team at JPL, adding, “We’re pushing it to the very end.”

twin packs

The silent member of the team is ForeSight, InSight’s full-size engineering model at JPL On-site tool lab. Engineers used ForeSight to practice how InSight could place scientific instruments on the surface of Mars using the rover’s robotic arm, Test techniques To get the probe temperature probe in Sticky Martian soildeveloping methods Noise reduction Picked up by a seismometer.

Forsight will be placed in a storage box. “We will fill it with loving care,” Banerdt said. “She was a great tool, a great companion for us on this whole mission.”

JPL Engineers Foresight Insight Replica

In a test space at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, engineers are training to deploy InSight instruments using ForeSight, a full-size replica of the lander that will be mobilized once the mission is complete. Many engineers wear sunglasses to block out the bright yellow lights that mimic sunlight as they appear on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/IPGP

Mission End Announcement

When InSight misses two consecutive contact sessions with the Mars-orbiting spacecraft, part of Mars Relay NetworkNASA will announce the end of the mission. However, this rule only applies if the cause of the connection loss is the probe itself, said network administrator Roy Gladden of JPL. Then, NASA’s Deep Space Network He’ll keep listening for a while, just in case.

However, there will be no heroic actions to reconnect with InSight. Although a mission-saving event, such as a strong wind blowing clean the panels, isn’t impossible, it’s considered completely improbable.

In the meantime, as long as InSight remains in touch, the team will continue to collect data. “We will continue to do scientific measurements for as long as possible,” Banerdt said. “We are at the mercy of Mars. The weather on Mars is not rain and snow; the weather on Mars is dust and wind.”

More about the mission

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) manages the InSight program of the NASA Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, which is managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space of Denver has built the InSight spacecraft, including a cruise stage and lander, and supports the mission’s spacecraft operations.

A number of European partners, including the French National Center for Space Studies (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. The National Center for Space Studies has provided the Inner Structure Seismic Experiment (SEIS) instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator of the IPGP (Institut de Physiques d’Institut d’Institut d’Institut d’Institut d’Institut du Physique in the World in Paris). Significant contributions to the Common Environmental Information System came from the IPGP; Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland;[{” attribute=””>Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the temperature and wind sensors, and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) supplied a passive laser retroreflector.

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