NASA’s InSight spacecraft finally reached at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California on February 28 after its developer, Lockheed Martin, completed its assembly and extensive testing thereafter. The shipment was sent on a C-17 cargo aircraft from Lockheed Martin Space in Denver to Vandenberg. The InSight spacecraft is slated to launch on May 5 and it will have a continuous five-week window until June 8 if any technical snag comes in the way. NASA’s InSight spacecraft which has an advanced rover and a lander. The spacecraft will mark the beginning of probes that dig into the Martian surface and study the planet’s structure, interior, marsquake and how it evolved as a rocky planet. It is also the first interplanetary spacecraft to launch from the west coast of the United States.
Per the reports, NASA’s InSight spacecraft was delivered at the Vandenberg Air Force Base on a Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft by the 21st Airlift Squadron to which, InSight’s project Manager Hoffman stated that the squad gave us a great ride and that, next time when the spacecraft is as high and fast [as it was in C-17 cargo aircraft], it will be in its position at +T 00:00:23 into the launch. The spacecraft will cover a distance of 54.6 million kilometers and will land on the surface of the red planet on November 26 if all goes by the plan.
In few days, InSight will be removed from its container at the Astrotech payload processing facility at Vandenberg after which, it will undergo rigorous testing for its functionalities and other health-related parameters. After testing, the next stage will be of uploading flight software in the spacecraft’s system as well as conduct various mission readiness tests. The team will analyze and evaluate its flight system as well as all other systems including ground data system and science instruments and probes that have been fixed on the rover to collect and analyze Martian surface. As per Hoffman, fueling the spacecraft towards its journey to Mars is an important task after which, the team will conduct a thorough spin-balance test on the spacecraft to determine its center of mass. Knowing all the data helps the scientists to calibrate the spacecraft properly for a safe and precise entry, descent, and landing on the surface of the Mars.
If all goes by the plan, the spacecraft will land on Mars on November 26 at the landing site shortlisted by NASA which is near to the Equator named as Elysium Planitia. A scientist working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory stated that the landing site is the normal bland site. Scientists have already analyzed the exosphere, ionosphere, and the atmosphere of the planet along with its geology and topography which leaves only the deep interior of the red planet to be discovered. InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigation, Geodesy and Heat Transport and its aim is to determine the deep interior of Mars. The rover has super-sensitive seismometers which will register even the slightest movement that will help determine the nature and details about the quakes on Mars called ‘Marsquakes’ and other geologic activity happening in the deep interior.
Unlike Curiosity and Spirit Rover which were sent to click photos and data about the red planet, InSight will have advanced scientific equipment that will measure the Marsquakes. It will use the seismic waves produced by the marsquakes to map out the interior of the planet as waves have different velocities when passing from different surfaces, thus, it will draw an outline of the interior. It will also facilitate the researchers to understand the composition of the Martian surface and interior as well as its structure. Finally, one of the most important objectives of the spacecraft is to determine how rocky planets came into existence and how it evolved over time. For instance, Earth is a rocky planet too.
InSight spacecraft will be launched on May 5 between 4:05 am PDT and 6:05 am PDT onboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-401 rocket from the Space Launch Complex 3E at Vandenberg Air Force Base and will reach the Martian surface by November 26. However, in case of any delays due to technical snag or another issue, NASA has reserved a total of five weeks of window time for the launch. The alignment of Mars and the Earth plays an important role in such expeditions. Mars and Earth are aligned only once in 26 months that has delayed the project already. Originally scheduled for launch in March 2016, it was delayed due to leak in the vacuum chamber around the seismometer instruments. Thus, NASA has reserved a five-week window this year from May 5 to June 8 when the spacecraft will liftoff for its journey of 33.9 million miles.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the InSight spacecraft for the Science Mission Directorate. The mission is a part of NASA’s Discovery Program managed by Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama.