NASA video reveals the ‘inferno of entry’ its InSight Mars probe will face on the red planet after blasting off from California tomorrow

  • NASA is preparing to launch its next Mars lander from early tomorrow morning
  • The InSight spacecraft has a two-hour launch window starting at 7:05am (ET)
  • A new video from NASA shows how InSight will land on the martian planes
  • After arrival, InSight will study the depth’s of the planet’s interior to gain more insight into a phenomenon called ‘marsquakes’ as well as its composition

NASA’s next Mars lander is almost ready to embark on a first-of-its-kind mission to learn more about the inner workings of the red planet. 

The Mars InSight lander is scheduled to take off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday morning, marking the space agency’s first-ever launch of a deep-space mission from the west coast.

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In a new video, NASA explains how the InSight spacecraft will make it to Mars’s surface to study the innards of the red planet. 

After traveling over 300 million miles in space and reaching the martian atmosphere, the InSight spacecraft only has six minutes to land safely on the surface, according to the agency. 

It will reach up to 14,000 miles per hour as it ascends into the atmosphere and it’s set to land at a higher elevation known for severe dust storms. 

NASA researchers took special care in selecting a precise landing location, using a novel technology called Terrain Builder Navigation.

They look at how hot the environment will be upon reentry, as well as the G-forces pulling on the object. 

But now, all eyes are on the impending launch that’s less than 24 hours away.         

InSight will travel over 300M miles in space to reach Mars’s atmosphere. It is scheduled to launch in the early morning hours of Saturday, May 5, and land on Mars six months later

InSight will be released about 90 minutes after launch on a 301 million-mile flight to Mars, and is due to reach its destination six months later, landing on a flat, smooth plain close to the planet’s equator called the Elysium Planitia.

The two-hour launch window will open on May 5 at 7:05am (ET) and is set to expire on June 8, with a targeted landing date of Nov. 26. 

All in all, the mission will last a little over one Mars year, which is the equivalent of roughly two Earth years, or 728 days. 

InSight will be released about 90 minutes after launch on a 301 million-mile (548 km) flight to Mars, and is due to reach its destination six months later, landing on a flat, smooth plain close to the planet’s equator called the Elysium Planitia.  

‘Where we land is an intentionally dull place,’ Neil Bowles, a UK researcher involved in the mission, told the Guardian. 

‘It’s flat, empty and hopefully not very windy. And that is precisely what we need’. 

No matter the launching point, getting to Mars is hard. 

The success rate, counting orbiters and landers by Nasa and others, is only about 40 per cent. 

The 794-pound lander, which is about the size of a garden table, will launch aboard a powerful, 19-story Atlas V rocket, which will also carry two CubeSat miniature satellites that will follow InSight to Mars to test deep-space communications technology. 

The InSight lander is equipped with instruments that will track how much Mars ‘wobbles’ as it orbits the sun and a probe that looks at how much heat is flowing inside the red planet 

WHAT IS THE NASA MARS INSIGHT PROBE?

InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is scheduled to launch on Saturday, May 5, and land on Mars six months later.

A slender cylindrical probe dubbed the mole is designed to tunnel nearly 16 feet (five metres) into the Martian soil.

A quake-measuring seismometer, meanwhile, will be removed from the lander by a mechanical arm and placed directly on the surface for better vibration monitoring. 

The billion dollar (£734 million) US and European joint mission, which launches this weekend, is the first dedicated to studying the innards of the red planet. Technicians and engineers inspect the heat shield for InSight

InSight is actually two years late flying because of problems with the French-supplied seismometer system that had to be fixed.

The 1,530-pound (694 kg) InSight builds on the design of the Phoenix lander and, before that, the Viking landers. 

They’re all stationary three-legged landers, so not equipped to roam around. 

The twin briefcase-sized objects, if they survive the journey, will ultimately soar past the red planet, offering NASA a new interplanetary satellite platform that carries a fraction of the weight, and cost, of larger traditional spacecraft. 

These Mars-bound cubes are nicknamed Wall-E and Eve after the animated movie characters, because they are equipped with the same type of propulsion used in fire extinguishers to expel foam.

In the 2008 movie, Wall-E used a fire extinguisher to propel through space.

Once settled, the solar-powered InSight will spend two years – one about one Martian year – plumbing the depths of the planet’s interior for clues to how Mars took form and, by extension, the origins of the Earth and other rocky planets.

It will take seven minutes for the spacecraft’s entry, descent and landing — often referred to as the most treacherous stage of the mission.  

While Earth’s tectonics and other forces have erased most evidence of its early history, much of Mars – about one-third the size of Earth – is believed to have remained relatively static for more than 3 billion years, creating a geologic time machine for scientists.

The 794-pound lander, which is about the size of a garden table, will launch aboard a powerful, 19-story Atlas V rocket, which will also carry two CubeSat miniature satellites (pictured) that will follow InSight to Mars to test deep-space communications technology

InSight’s primary instrument is a French-built seismometer, a device designed to detect the slightest ground motion from ‘marsquakes,’ even those on the opposite side of the planet

‘The science we want to do with this mission is really the science of understanding the early solar system,’ JPL’s Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator, said during a pre-launch briefing for reporters on Thursday. 

InSight’s primary instrument is a French-built seismometer, a device designed to detect the slightest ground motion from ‘marsquakes,’ even those on the opposite side of the planet. 

The instrument is so sensitive, Banerdt said, that it can measure a seismic wave just one-half the radius of a hydrogen atom.

Mars, unlike the Earth, doesn’t have tectonic plates, so scientists are interested in learning more about what causes the geological phenomenon. 

Special instruments attached to the InSight lander will help them collect data over the course of two years on the red planet’s geologic structure, composition and seismic activity.  

NASA researchers took special care in selecting a precise landing location, using a novel technology called Terrain Builder Navigation, which uses 3D computer simulations

WHAT ARE MARSQUAKES AND HOW WILL NASA’S INSIGHT MISSION DETECT THEM? 

Starting next year, scientists will get their first look deep below the surface of Mars.  

Nasa’s robotic lander InSight will study marsquakes to learn about the Martian crust, mantle and core. Doing so could help answer a big question: how are planets born? 

Seismology, the study of quakes, has already revealed some of the answers here on Earth, but our planet has been churning its geologic record for billions of years, hiding its most ancient history.

Mars, at half the size of Earth, churns far less – it’s a fossil planet, preserving the history of its early birth.

When rocks crack or shift, they give off seismic waves that bounce throughout a planet. These waves, better known as quakes, travel at different speeds depending on the geologic material they travel through.

Starting next year, scientists will get their first look deep below the surface of Mars.This  artist’s rendition showing the inner structure of Mars. The topmost layer is known as the crust, underneath it is the mantle, which rests on an inner core

Seismometers, like InSight’s SEIS instrument, measure the size, frequency and speed of these quakes, offering scientists a snapshot of the material they pass through.

Mars’ geologic record includes lighter rocks and minerals, which rose from the planet’s interior to form the Martian crust, and heavier rocks and minerals that sank to form the Martian mantle and core. 

By learning about the layering of these materials, scientists can explain why some rocky planets turn into an ‘Earth’ rather than a ‘Mars’ or ‘Venus’ – a factor that is essential to understanding where life can appear in the universe.

Each time a quake happens on Mars, it will give InSight a ‘snapshot’ of the planet’s interior. The InSight team estimates the spacecraft will see between a couple dozen to several hundred quakes over the course of the mission.

Small meteorites, which pass through the thin Martian atmosphere on a regular basis, will also serve as seismic ‘snapshots.’ 

InSight is equipped with two solar panels, which unfold ‘like paper fans’ for a total width of about 20 feet. 

It will also deploy a seismometer that will record tremors from geological faults, as well as shock waves created by meteor impacts.  

Radio equipment is attached to the lander to track the InSight’s position on Mars’s surface and deduce how much Mars ‘wobbles’ as it orbits the sun — a project called the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE). 

This will provide insights into the size of Mars’ iron-rich core and whether it is liquid or solid, as well as which other elements may be present, according to NASA.  

Finally, a heat flow probe will burrow 16 feet into Mars’s subsurface, pulling behind it a cable encasing a thermal probe to measure heat flowing from inside the planet.

Scientists expect to see a dozen to 100 marsquakes over the course of the mission, producing data that will help them deduce the depth, density and composition of the planet’s core, the rocky mantle surrounding it and the outermost layer, the crust.

No matter the launching point, getting to Mars is hard. The success rate, counting orbiters and landers by Nasa and others, is only about 40 per cent

Experts say Mars is believed to produce quakes that are smaller than 6.0 on the Richter scale.           

InSight is not the first attempt to measure Martian seismic activity. The Viking probes of the mid-1970s were equipped with seismometers, too, but they were bolted to the top of the landers, which swayed in Martian winds on legs built with shock absorbers.

Banerdt called those ‘handicapped experiments,’ joking, ‘We didn’t do seismology on Mars – we did it 3 feet above Mars.’

Apollo missions to the moon brought seismometers to the lunar surface as well, detecting thousands of moonquakes and meteorite impacts.

InSight is expected to yield the first meaningful data on internal planetary tremors beyond Earth.     

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