NASA Spacecraft Descending on Mars

Enlarge this image

Enlarge this image

It was launched from Earth on May 5, 2018.

A successful entry, descent and landing (EDL) on Mars of the US spacecraft InSight will be largely decided by the two events of parachute deployment and radar lock-up, chief scientist of the Mars lander Bruce Banerdt said Sunday.

This afternoon, it will pierce the Martian atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour. The InSight spacecraft was built near Denver by Lockheed Martin. InSight needs to navigate a potentially perilous journey through the Martian atmosphere to reach the surface. Only 40% of missions sent to Mars have succeeded. "Now we finally will explore inside Mars and deepen our understanding of our terrestrial neighbour as NASA prepares to send human explorers deeper into the solar system".

As well as being able to watch online, NASA will also be hosting events across the country.

Curiosity, Opportunity and Spirit have already provided scientists with a wealth of data on Mars from samples collected on the planet's surface, revealing the composition of its minerals and showing that the planet might have been capable of supporting life in the distant past.

One of the watch parties is being held at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh. If InSight comes into too shallow, the spacecraft could skip off the thin atmosphere, and an entry angle that is too steep would produce too much thermal heating. Tricky from the lander's deck.

What are the "seven minutes of terror"?

InSight represents NASA's ninth attempt to put a spacecraft on Mars; only one effort failed.

Principal investigator Bruce Banerdt began his career as an intern at JPL on the Viking mission, the first successful Mars landing.

Enlarge this image
Enlarge this image

Its 123km descent will be slowed by atmospheric friction, a giant parachute and retro rockets.

So hopes will be high the InSight mission can land safely today. Lockheed was the prime contractor for the entire spacecraft, including the landing system. MRO will be in position to receive the transmissions during InSight's entry, descent and landing.

Two minutes later, engineers anticipate the heat shield of the plucky lander will hit around 1,500°C, or peak heating. This is when the intense heat could cause temporary drops in the radio signal from the craft.

From there, the most critical descent checklist unfolded at a rapid clip: 15 seconds to separate the heat shield.

The parachute is expected to deploy at supersonic velocities, and it is hard or impossible to mathematically model the process completely or to test the process in a wind tunnel, Banerdt explained.

These are predictions for the details of InSight's landing that project managers made several weeks ago. Then, it will touch down at 2:54 p.m.

InSight is scheduled to touch down on the Red Planet at approximately 3:00pm EST. The InSight mission aims to peer deep beneath the planet's surface for the first time. "We have no ability to actually, kind of, fly the lander to the surface", Grover says.

NASA's last Martian landfall took place with the Curiosity rover in 2012, so interest in the mission was heating up, with viewing parties planned at museums, planetariums and libraries across the US. The probe will attempt a landing on Monday, Nov. 26, at around 3pm ET (20:00 UTC). After drilling about 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) into a rocky outcrop, the rover extracted rock dust that was light gray, offering a first look at subsurface material on Mars. Eight of the nine spacecraft successful landed on Mars have NASA logos on the side. The spacecraft will be landing on Elysium Planitia, a large volcanic plain stretching north of Mars' equator. Because it won't be roving over the surface, the landing site was an important determination.

Recommended News

We are pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news.
Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper.
Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.