Mars InSight Deploys Its Solar Panels


NASA said the landing is the first step of a two-year mission "to study the deep interior of Mars to learn how all celestial bodies with rocky surfaces, including Earth and the Moon, formed". After successfully carrying out a number of communications and in-flight navigation experiments, the twin MarCOs were set in position to receive transmissions during InSight's entry, descent, and landing.

NASA's InSight is created to learn about both Mars and the formation of the solar system itself.

NASA's InSight has sent signals to Earth indicating that its solar panels are open and collecting sunlight on the Martian surface. These changes were necessary to support operations for one full Mars year (two Earth years).

The three-legged lander streaked into the thin Martian atmosphere at 19,795km/h (12,300mph) and plunged 114km to the surface within seven minutes, slowed to a gentle touchdown by atmospheric friction, a giant parachute and retro rockets.

Like every mission to Mars, InSight would not have been possible without a high level of meticulously planned global coordination involving hundreds of researchers and engineers.

InSights solar arrays have unfurled, which will provide the craft - roughly the size of a 1960s convertible - with power during its residency.

Almost two dozen other Mars missions have been sent from other nations. And InSight's magnetometer and weather sensors are taking readings of the landing site, Elysium Planitia - "the biggest parking lot on Mars".

InSight's design is heavily based on the successful Mars Phoenix Lander, which completed its mission in 2008.

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InSight's primary instrument is a French-built seismometer, created to record the slightest vibrations from "marsquakes" and meteor impacts around the planet.

The Nasa Viking probes of the mid-1970s were equipped with seismometers, too, but they were bolted to the top of the landers, a design that was largely ineffective.

The device, to be placed on the surface by the lander's robot arm, is so sensitive it can measure a seismic wave just one half the radius of a hydrogen atom.

The deployment of the instruments will take several months. The arm deploys the heat flow probe - a mole that burrows 16 feet (five meters) into the ground.

The data that InSight sends back will help to determine the temperature of Mars and the geological activity beneath its crust, whether it still has a hot molten core, and what makes Earth so special by comparison.

The landing data and initial photograph were relayed to Earth from two briefcase-sized satellites that were launched along with InSight and were flying past Mars as it reached its destination. This is used by orbiting spacecraft as a rangefinder.

Now that InSight is on the ground, the company's role in the mission is done, but Wilson said the real payoff is when the scientific data starts coming back.