NASA prepares to say goodbye to its Insight mission on Mars


NASA notes that the day is approaching when the Mars InSight lander will go silent, ending its historical mission to reveal secrets of the interior of the Red Planet.

The spacecraft’s power generation continues to decline as wind-blown dust thickens on its solar panels, so the team has taken steps to continue as long as possible on the power that remains. The finale is expected to come in the coming weeks. Insight was launched on May 5, 2018, and reached Mars on November 26 of that year.

At the same time that the operations team gets the most out of the scientific work of the Insight module (Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) it has also started taking steps to finish the mission.

The most important final step of the InSight mission is to store its trove of data and make it accessible to researchers around the world. The lander’s data has yielded details about the inner layers of Mars, its liquid core, the surprisingly variable subsurface remnants of its nearly defunct magnetic field, the weather on this part of Mars, and plenty of seismic activity, NASA reports in a statement.

InSight’s seismometer, provided by France’s Center National d’√Čtudes Spatiales (CNES), has detected more than 1,300 ‘marsquakes’ since the lander touched down in November 2018, the largest being magnitude 5. It even recorded earthquakes. by meteorite impacts. Observing how seismic waves from those earthquakes change as they travel across the planet offers invaluable insight into the interior of Mars. but it also provides a better understanding of how all rocky worlds, including Earth and its Moon, are formed.

Earlier this summer, the lander had so little power left that the mission turned off all of InSight’s other science instruments to keep the seismometer running. They even turned off the failsafe system which would otherwise it would automatically turn off the seismometer if the system detects that the lander’s power output is dangerously low.

Recently, after a regional dust storm added to the lander’s dust-covered solar panels, the team decided to turn off the seismometer entirely to save power. Now that the storm is over, the seismometer is collecting data again, though the mission hopes the lander will only have enough power for a few more weeks.

NASA will declare the mission over when InSight loses two consecutive communication sessions with Mars-orbiting spacecraft, but only if the cause of the communication loss is the lander itself, said network manager Roy Gladden of JPL. After that, NASA’s Deep Space Network will listen for a while, just in case.

There will be no heroic measures to reestablish contact with InSight. While a mission-saving event – a strong gust of wind, for example, clearing the panels – isn’t out of the question, it’s considered unlikely.