How to watch NASA’s InSight Mars landing

How to watch NASA’s InSight Mars landing

Kenneth Drake
November 27, 2018

A model of the InSight Mars lander at JPL.

InSight will land near the equator, in the western Elysium Planitia, about 600 km north from where the Curiosity rover is presently located.

After a seven-month journey, the lander will scream through the red planet's thin atmosphere at more than 12,000 miles per hour in a live-or-die bid to settle (in one piece) onto a flat area near the equator. This is when the intense heat caused a temporary drop in the radio signal from the craft. "So, there will be a period of time where there's a blackout, then an eight-minute delay in order to get the signal".

How will the team know what's going on with InSight?

The first "beep" from the spacecraft's X-band radio - indicating whether InSight survived the landing - is scheduled for 2001 GMT. Only about 40 percent of the landers and rovers sent to the red planet during the last five decades have ever made it safely down to the surface, and of the worldwide space agencies that have tried, only NASA has succeeded in making a soft landing on Mars.

An artist's conception shows NASA's Mars InSight firing its thrusters for landing.

The monitoring and adjustments to InSight's path will continue until the last minute. Suspended legs will also be used to absorb some of the shock.

At 14:51 EST the parachute will deploy, with the heat shield ejected seconds later.

Nor can mission managers intervene if anything goes awry.

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The descent will take just over 6 minutes, less than the "7 minutes of terror" made famous by the Curiosity rover. The spacecraft blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California on May 5, 2018 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas v 401 rocket.

Out of the 44 NASA missions sent to Mars, only 18 have been successful. No other country has managed to set and operate a spacecraft on the dusty red surface. Seismic activity on Mars is thought to come from cracks forming in the crust, with the planet's interior energy thought to be less intense than Earth's. A few minutes later, InSight sent the official "beep" to NASA to signal that it was alive and well, including a photo of the Martian surface where it landed.

'It will also be useful in allowing us understand how many planets in other star systems there might be which could have the right conditions to support life, ' she said.

The InSight is planning to go where no space robot has gone before: underneath Mars. The two instruments cost the European space agencies about $180 million.

"The landing is all completely automatic and autonomous", says Rob Grover, leader of the Entry, Descent and Landing team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

"We're batting about 50 percent or less", Thomas Zurbuchen, a NASA associate administrator, said Wednesday during a JPL news conference.

The smaller, 880-pound (360 kg) InSight - its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - marks the 21st US -launched Martian exploration including the Mariner fly-by missions of the 1960s.

In space, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will be tracking InSight's progress down to the surface, however, it is not created to relay those message real-time.

The instrument, protected from the elements by a dome-shaped shield, is capable of measuring movements smaller than the width of a hydrogen atom.

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