A red letter day for NASA

By Satyen Mohapatra

Nov 26, 2018

New Delhi:Today (Nov.26) is red letter day for NASA when not only InSight (NASA’s Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport spacecraft) will be landing on the Red Planet to study formation and early evolution of rocky planets but also test the communication capability of Mars Cube One (MarCo) which flew separately behind Insight.

According to NASA, MarCo are two briefcase-sized spacecraft which flew behind InSight and will relay signals to earth as the entry,descent and landing takes place. If the experimental technology succeeds it would be a new way of communication technology for all future missions.

So one should expect an image from InSight of the Martian surface within ten minutes of the lander touch down. Following the routine communications path it would make the data available hours after the landing because it would be through NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey.

InSight’s entry, descent and landing (EDL) team, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California and at Lockheed Martin Space in Denver will be keeping their fingers crossed because high degree of precision handling will be required to soft land InSight on the Martian surface.

InSight will hit the planet’s atmosphere at a speed of 19,800 kilometres per hour but will have to slow down to almost 8 kilometers per hour by the time it reaches the surface for touchdown. The spacecraft has to decelerate in just seven minutes for a safe landing which is going to be a daunting task.

InSight’s team hopes that by studying the deep interior of Mars, we can learn how other rocky worlds, including Earth and the Moon, formed.

Earth and Mars are made of the same stuff more than 4.5 billion years ago but then became quite different. By comparing Earth’s interior to that of Mars, InSight’s team members hope to better understand our solar system.

InSight’s engineers have built a tough spacecraft, able to touch down safely in a dust storm if it needs to. The spacecraft’s heat shield is designed to be thick enough to withstand being “sandblasted” by suspended dust.

It also has a parachute that was tested to be stronger than Phoenix’s, in case it faces more air resistance due to the atmospheric conditions expected during a dust storm.

InSight, the first mission to study the deep interior of Mars, blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California on May 5, 2018.

A number of European partners, including France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission.

(India News Stream)