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NASA sending five-metre THERMO-HAMMER to Mars

InSight lander starts pre-flight tests before drilling deep with heat probe

By Simon Sharwood, 28 May 2015

NASA has announced that its next Mars lander, the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight), has started its pre-flight tests to ensure it can survive launch and the long schlep to the Red Planet.

InSight is due to launch and reach Mars next year. When it arrives, one of its chores will be to deploy an instrument called HP3, a “mole” that “will hammer five meters into the Martian subsurface … to learn how much heat is coming from Mars' interior and reveal the planet's thermal history” (See video below).

The lander won't have wheels: wherever it lays its hat, that'll be home. Landing will be achieved with a parachute-and-rockets arrangement similar to that used on the Mars Phoenix lander. It's expected the lander will come to rest somewhere on the Elysium Planitia in September next year, after a March launch.

Once it lands the craft will deploy a seismometer, and a doppler shift detector called RISE to measure the planet's wobble. One of two cameras will help mission scientists to aim the lander's instruments. The second will take 120 degree panoramas of Mars.

The mission's aim is to explore Martian geology, the better to understand how rocky planets form. It's hoped the 30GB a year of data the craft is expected to phone home will help advanced our knowledge of the field.

InSight's mission is planned to last two years.

The SEIS instrument was provided by the French Space Agency, with help from the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, the Swiss Federal Institute ofTechnology, the Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Research (MPS), Imperial College and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. HP3 was brought to you by the German Space Agency. ®

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