Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mars InSight Lander Touches Down on the Red Planet

          By Brian Orlotti

NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) spacecraft has landed on Mars after a six-month, 482 million-kilometre journey. The mission includes a small Canadian component.

InSight is a two-year mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) whose goal is to study the interior of Mars.

As outlined in the November 26th, 2018 CTV News post "Mars touchdown: NASA spacecraft survives supersonic plunge," the spacecraft spent six minutes descending through the Martian atmosphere, using its parachute and engines to slow down before landing. A pair of cubesats trailing InSight since their May liftoff provided near real-time updates of the spacecraft's descent. One satellite also sent back a quick photo from Mars's surface. InSight touched down in Elysium Planitia, a plain hear the Martian equator chosen for its flatness and minimal landing risk.

The mission consists of a 360-kilogram lander (built by Lockheed Martin), which will use its 1.8-metre robotic arm to place a mechanical mole and seismometer on the ground. The self-hammering mole will then burrow five metres down to measure the planet's internal heat, while the seismometer listens for quakes.

InSight is the first mission to attempt these tasks as no previous Mars lander has dug deeper than a few inches and no previous seismometers have functioned.

By examining Mars’ interior, scientists seek to understand how our solar system's rocky planets formed 4.5 billion years ago and why they turned out so different.

InSight features contributions from the French space agency CNES (seismometer) and Germany’s  space agency DLR (the mechanical mole and heat probe). CNES and DLR’s contributions total around $180Mln US ($239Mln CDN).

NASA’s total cost for InSight comes to $813Mln US (just over $1Bln CDN).

A Canadian connection to InSight exists in the form of Catherine Johnson, a planetary scientist at the  University of British Columbia and the only Canadian involved in the mission.

As outlined in the November 21st, 2018 Globe and Mail post, "NASA’s InSight probe aims at a deeper understanding of Mars," Johnson's team will study marsquakes as well as examine the water content of rocks to shed light on the history of water on Mars.
Editors Note: As outlined in the November 29th, 2018 CBC News post, "Mars lander features chain mail skirt with Saskatoon connection," there is at least one more Canadian connection to this mission. 
The post cited entrepreneur and mechanical engineer Bernice Daniels, the co-founder of a Saskatoon SK based jewelry company called The Ring Lord, which built a "chain mail" covering to protect sensitive instruments on the InSight Lander.
According to the post, " NASA is not The Ring Lords first high-profile customer. The company has also worked with Boeing and SpaceX."
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

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