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InSight Lander.jpg
Artist's impression of the InSight lander on the surface of Mars, depicting the lander's HP3 instrument burrowing into the subsurface.
Mission type Mars lander
Operator NASA · JPL
Mission duration 2 years[1]
Spacecraft properties
Manufacturer NASA · German Aerospace Centre · French Space Agency[2]
Landing mass ≈350 kg (770 lb)
Power 450 W, solar / NiH2 battery
Start of mission
Launch date 8–27 March 2016[3]
Rocket Atlas V 401[4][5]
Launch site Vandenberg Air Force Base[4]
Lompoc, California, United States
Contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems
Mars lander
Landing date September 20, 2016 (2016-09-20) (planned)
Landing site Elysium Planitia, Mars[6]
3°00′N 154°42′E / 3.0°N 154.7°E / 3.0; 154.7 (InSight landing site)
InSight Mission Logo.png
InSight mission patch

InSight is a robotic lander mission to Mars planned for launch in March 2016.[2] The name is a backronym for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.[1]

The mission's objective is to place a stationary lander equipped with a seismometer and heat transfer probe on the surface of Mars to study its early geological evolution. This would bring new understanding of the Solar System’s terrestrial planetsMercury, Venus, Earth, Mars — and Earth’s Moon. By reusing technology from the Mars Phoenix lander, which successfully landed on Mars in 2008, it is expected that the cost and risk will be reduced.[1]

InSight was initially known as GEMS (Geophysical Monitoring Station), but changed its name in early 2012 at the request of NASA.[7] Out of 28 proposals from 2010,[8] it was one of the three Discovery Program finalists receiving US$3 million in May 2011 to develop a detailed concept study.[9] In August 2012, InSight was selected for development and launch.[2] Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) with participation from scientists from several countries, the mission is cost-capped at US$425 million, not including launch vehicle funding.[10] On 19 May 2014, NASA announced that construction of the lander began.[11] Later, on 27 May 2015, NASA announced that testing of the lander begins.[12]


InSight will place a single stationary lander on Mars to study its deep interior and address a fundamental issue of planetary and Solar System science: understanding the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner Solar System (including Earth) more than four billion years ago.[13]

Interiors of Earth, Mars and the Moon (artist's concept)

InSight’s primary objective is to study the earliest evolutionary history of the processes that shaped Mars. By studying the size, thickness, density and overall structure of Mars' core, mantle and crust, as well as the rate at which heat escapes from the planet's interior, InSight will provide a glimpse into the evolutionary processes of all of the rocky planets in the inner Solar System.[13] The rocky inner planets share a common ancestry that begins with a process called accretion. As the body increases in size, its interior heats up and evolves to become a terrestrial planet, containing a core, mantle and crust.[14] Despite this common ancestry, each of the terrestrial planets is later shaped and molded through a poorly understood process called differentiation. InSight mission's goal is to improve understanding of this process and, by extension, terrestrial evolution, by measuring the planetary building blocks shaped by differentiation: a terrestrial planet's core, mantle and crust.[14]

The mission will determine if there is any seismic activity, the amount of heat flow from the interior, the size of Mars' core and whether the core is liquid or solid.[15] This data would be the first of its kind on Mars.[16] The mission's secondary objective is to conduct an in-depth study of geophysics, tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on Mars, which could provide knowledge about such processes on Earth. Crust thickness, mantle velocity, core radius and density, and seismic activity should experience a measured accuracy increase on the order 3X to 10X compared to current data.[16]

In terms of fundamental processes shaping planetary formation, Mars contains the most in-depth and accurate historical record, because it is big enough to have undergone the earliest accretion and internal heating processes that shaped the terrestrial planets, but small enough to have retained signs of those processes.[13]


Testing of the lander's robotic arm that will deploy the seismometer.

The mission further develops design heritage from the 2008 Phoenix Mars Lander.[17] Because InSight is planned to be powered by a photovoltaic system, it would land near the equator to enable a projected lifetime of 2 years (or 1 Mars year).[1]


350 kg (770 lb)
About 5.5 m (18 ft) long with the solar panels deployed. The science deck is about 1.5 m (4.9 ft) in diameter.
Power is generated using two gallium arsenide solar array panels (total area 3.1 m2 (33 sq ft)) mounted to the cruise stage during cruise, and via two gallium arsenide solar array panels (total area 6 m2 (65 sq ft)) deployed from the lander after touchdown on the Martian surface that will produce 450 W. NiH2 battery with a capacity of 16 A·h.[18][19]
Two tiny CubeSats will piggyback with the InSight lander to help relay communications during the probe's entry, descent and landing phase.[20][21] The 6U CubeSats, named "MarCO", are identical. They measure 60×10×10 cm with one of them serving as backup. They will flyby Mars during the landing phase and relay InSight's telemetry in real time.[22][23] MarCO is a technology capability demonstration of communications relay system.

Scientific payload[edit]

InSight's science payload will consist of two main instruments:

  • The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, provided by the German Space Agency (DLR), is a self-penetrating heat flow probe —nicknamed "the mole".[27][28][29][30] Also called a "self-hammering nail", it is being designed to burrow up to 5 m (16 ft) below the surface to measure how much heat is coming from Mars' core, and thus help reveal the planet's thermal history.[27][28][29][30] It trails a tether containing precise temperature sensors every 30 cm to measure the temperature profile of the subsurface.[27]
  • Additionally, the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE) led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), will use the lander's X-band radio to provide precise measurements of planetary rotation to better understand the inside of Mars.[31] X-band radio tracking, capable of an accuracy under 2 cm, will build on previous Viking program and Mars Pathfinder data.[27] The previous data sets allowed the core size to be constrained, but with a third data set from InSight, the nutation amplitude can be determined.[27] Once spin axis direction, precession, and nutation amplitudes are better understood, it should be possible to calculate the size and density of the Martian core and mantle.[27] This would increase the understanding on the formation of terrestrial planets (e.g. Earth) and rocky exoplanets.[27]
  • A magnetometer will measure magnetic disturbances caused by the Martian ionosphere.[32]
Mars InSight lander – launch planned for March 2016.

A camera mounted on the lander's arm can capture black and white images of the instruments on the lander's deck and a 3-D view of the ground where the seismometer and heat flow probe will be placed. It will then be used to help engineers and scientists guide the deployment of the instruments to the ground. With a 45-degree field of view, the camera will also provide a panoramic view of the terrain surrounding the landing site.[33] A second similar camera, with a wide-angle 120-degree field of view lens will be mounted under the edge of the lander's deck and will provide a complementary view of the instrument deployment area.[33]

A color camera was also considered, but there is a lack of funding for this item.[16] An electromagnetic sounder to provide data on crustal thickness, ground water, and on the mantle lithosphere was considered as well.[34] Technology to clean dust off the solar panels was considered for Mars Exploration Rover's development.[35] In the years since their development others have proposed ways of cleaning off panels.[36] The effects of Martian surface dust on solar cells was studied in the 1990s by the Materials Adherence Experiment on Mars Pathfinder.[37][38][39] InSight may represent possible piggy-back opportunity for MetNet.[40] It may also be a chance to capitalize on previously funded technology development such as the Urey Mars Organic and Oxidant Detector and Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer .[41] In 2014 a color camera was considered to be a possibility if certain criteria for the mission is met, such as being on schedule.[42]


The launch is being managed by NASA's Launch Services Program. The launch is scheduled for 4 March 2016 and will be on an Atlas V 401 (4 meter fairing/zero (0) solid rocket boosters/single (1) engine Centaur (SEC)) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, USA.[43] This is the first American interplanetary mission to launch from California.[43]

Landing site[edit]

Phoenix landing art, similar to Insight
All four possible landing sites are on Elysium Planitia; this landing ellipse is one of them, located at 4°30′N 136°00′E / 4.5°N 136°E / 4.5; 136.

As InSight's science goals are not related to any particular surface of Mars, potential landing sites were chosen on the basis of practicality. Candidate sites needed to be: near the equator of Mars to provide sufficient sunlight for the solar panels year round, have a low elevation to allow for sufficient atmospheric braking during EDL, flat, relatively rock-free to reduce the probability of complications during landing, and soft enough terrain to allow the heat flow probe to penetrate well into the ground. An optimal area that meets all these requirements is Elysium Planitia, so all 22 initial potential landing sites were located in this area.[44] The only two other areas on the equator and at low elevation, Isidis Planitia and Valles Marineris, are too rocky. In addition, Valles Marineris has too steep a gradient to allow safe landing.[6]

In September 2013, the initial 22 potential landing sites were narrowed to 4, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will then be used to gain more information on each of the 4 potential sites before a final decision is made.[6][45] Each site consists of a landing ellipse that measures about 130 km (81 miles) long by 27 km (17 miles) wide.[46]

Team and participation[edit]

The InSight science and engineering team includes scientists and engineers from many disciplines, countries and organizations. The science team assigned to InSight includes scientists from institutions in the U.S., France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, Spain and the United Kingdom.[47]

Mars Exploration Rover project scientist Bruce Banerdt is the principal investigator for the InSight mission and the lead scientist for the SEIS instrument.[48] Suzanne Smrekar, whose research focuses on the thermal evolution of planets and who has done extensive testing and development on instruments designed to measure the thermal properties and heat flow on other planets,[49] is the lead for InSight's HP3 instrument. Sami Asmar, an expert in advanced studies using radio waves,[50] is the lead for InSight's RISE investigation. The InSight mission team also includes project manager Tom Hoffman and deputy project manager Henry Stone.[47]

Science team:[27]


See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b c NASA will send robot drill to Mars in 2016, Washington Post, By Brian Vastag, Monday, 20 August 2012
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  34. ^ Geophysical Network Mission for Mars
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External links[edit]