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article imageSounding out Mars: NASA starts trials for next lander mission

By Robert Myles     May 28, 2015 in Science
Pasadena - Trials have now started on NASA’s next piece of Mars wizardry, a stationary lander scheduled to head off to the Red Planet, March 2016.
The lander, measuring about the size of a car, goes by the moniker “InSight,” an acronym standing for “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.”
As its full name suggests, much of InSight’s brief involves learning more about the geology of Mars. The craft will study the interior structure of Mars, the first mission of its kind to do so. NASA hopes an in-depth examination of the planet’s deep interior may reveal clues as to how all rocky planets, Earth included, evolved.
The current slew of InSight tests are designed to ensure the lander operates successfully both en route to Mars in the harsh conditions of deep space and in a not-much-friendlier environment once it reaches the Martian surface.
A provisional launch window for InSight has been set for between March 8 and March 27, 2016, lifting off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA expects Insight to land on Mars about six months later.
Although nominally a NASA mission, InSight is an international collaboration with a team of scientists, drawn from the U.S., France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, Spain and the UK, all working on the project. Additionally, both the French Space Agency and the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V) are supplying two of InSight’s principal instruments for a mission scheduled to last two years.
InSight is part of NASA’s long term project planning, dubbed “Journey to Mars,” the ultimate aim being a manned mission to Mars sometime in the 2030s. Data that InSight returns will be crucial to this ambitious project.
As part of the same Journey to Mars, earlier this month, as reported by Digital Journal, NASA announced a competition open to the public to submit ideas on how a future human colony on Mars could reach the Red Planet and afterwards sustain itself there.
The solar arrays on NASA s InSight lander are deployed in this test inside a clean room at Lockheed ...
The solar arrays on NASA's InSight lander are deployed in this test inside a clean room at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver. This configuration is how the spacecraft will look on the surface of Mars.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin
Over the next seven months, InSight will be put through its environmental testing paces at Lockheed Martin's Space Systems facility near Denver. In this phase the lander will be subjected to extreme temperatures and vacuum conditions of nearly zero air pressure designed to replicate conditions found in deep space as well as a range of other tests.
"The assembly of InSight went very well and now it's time to see how it performs," commented Stu Spath, InSight program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver. "The environmental testing regimen is designed to wring out any issues with the spacecraft so we can resolve them while it's here on Earth. This phase takes nearly as long as assembly, but we want to make sure we deliver a vehicle to NASA that will perform as expected in extreme environments."
The craft will also be tested to see how it stands up to the vibrations it will experience just after lift-off from Vandenberg. The testing phase will end with a further thermal vacuum test simulating the temperatures and atmospheric pressures InSight will encounter on the Martian surface.
"It's great to see the spacecraft put together in its launch configuration," said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "Many teams from across the globe have worked long hours to get their elements of the system delivered for these tests. There still remains much work to do before we are ready for launch, but it is fantastic to get to this critical milestone."
More about InSight mission, NASA, Mars, Red planet, Space exploration
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