InSight’s Heat Probe Has Bounced Back Out Of Its Hole

This is sad news. After finding what seemed like a solution to the Mole’s difficulties on Mars, engineers are stymied again. The Mole, or Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) has bounced half-way out of its hole.

It’s like Groundhog Day on Mars. If the Mole bounces out of its hole, it means six more weeks of engineers scratching their heads to come up with a solution.

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It Looks Like it’s Working! NASA InSight’s Mole is Making Progress Again Thanks to the Arm Scoop Hack

NASA and the DLR are making some progress with the Mole. The Mole has been stuck for months now, and NASA/DLR have been working to get it unstuck. After removing the mole’s housing to get a better look at it with InSight’s cameras, the team came up with a plan.

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Here’s NASA’s New Plan to Get InSight’s Temperature Probe Into Mars

The mole is still stuck.

The mole is the name given to the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument on NASA’s Mars InSight lander. It’s job is to penetrate into the Martian surface to a depth of 5 meters (16 ft) to measure how heat flows from the planet’s interior to the surface. It’s part of InSight’s mission to understand the interior structure of Mars, and how it formed.

But it’s stuck at about 35 centimers (14 inches.) The mole can do science shy of its maximum depth of 5 meters, but not this shallow. And NASA, and the DLR (German Aerospace Center) who provided the mole, have a new plan to fix it.

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NASA’s Still Trying to Get InSight’s Mole Working Again. Progress is Slow.

The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package deployed on the Martian surface. Image Credit: NASA/DLR

The InSight lander has been on Mars for 213 Sols on its mission to understand the interior of the red planet. It’s armed with a seismometer, a temperature and wind sensor, and other instruments. But it’s primary instrument, arguably, is the Mole, or the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3.) And the Mole has been stuck for a while now.

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Engineers are Still Troubleshooting Why Mars InSight’s Mole is Stuck and Won’t Go Any Deeper

NASA’s Mars InSight Lander was always a bit of a tricky endeavour. The stationary lander has one chance to get things right, since it can’t move. While initially the mission went well, and the landing site looked good, the Mole is having trouble penetrating deep enough to fulfill its mission.

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Scientists are Trying to Figure Out Why InSight’s “Mole” Can’t Dig Any Deeper

The HP3 model in its test bed in Bremen. Image Credit: DLR.

Engineers at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) are busy working with a replica InSight Lander to see if they can understand what’s blocking the lander’s mole.

The mole is the short name for the lander’s Heat Probe, which is hammering its way into the Martian surface. The Heat Probe is actually called the HP3, or Heat and Physical Properties Package. It’s designed to work it’s way as far as 5 meters (16.4 ft.) into the soil, where it will measure the heat flowing from the interior of the planet. Those measurements will tell scientists a lot about the structure of Mars, and how rocky planets formed.

But as reported last month, the probe is being blocked at about 30 cm (1 ft.)

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Six People Have Begun a 122-Day Simulated Mission on the Moon

July 20st, 2019, will mark the 50th anniversary of the historic Moon Landing, where astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the lunar surface for the first time. This accomplishment was the high point of the “Space Race” and has remained NASA’s crowning achievement in space. In the coming years, NASA will attempt to return to the Moon, where they will be joined by several other space agencies.

To prepare for these eventual missions, a group of cosmonauts recently commenced an isolation experiment that will simulate a long-term mission to the Moon. It’s called the SIRIUS-19 experiment, which began earlier today at 02:00 p.m. local time (04:00 a.m. PDT; 07:00 a.m. EDT) at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow.

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InSight’s Rock-hammer is About Half a Meter Down and has Already Run into Rocks.

The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package deployed on the Martian surface. Image Credit: NASA/DLR

NASA’s InSight lander is busy deploying its Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) into the Martian soil and has encountered some resistance. The German Aerospace Center (DLR), who designed and built the HP3 as part of the InSight mission, has announced that the instrument has hit not one, but two rocks in the sub-surface. For now the HP3 is in a resting phase, and it’s not clear what will happen next.

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InSight Mars Lander Saved from Termination, Reset to 2018 Blastoff

Back shell of NASA's InSight spacecraft is being lowered onto the mission's lander, which is folded into its stowed configuration.  The back shell and a heat shield form the aeroshell, which will protect the lander as the spacecraft plunges into the upper atmosphere of Mars.  Launch now rescheduled to May 2018 to fix French-built seismometer.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin
Back shell of NASA’s InSight spacecraft is being lowered onto the mission’s lander, which is folded into its stowed configuration. The back shell and a heat shield form the aeroshell, which will protect the lander as the spacecraft plunges into the upper atmosphere of Mars. Launch now rescheduled to May 2018 to fix French-built seismometer. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

The Insight Mars lander has been saved from mission termination and will live to launch another day two years from now, NASA managers just announced following a thorough three month investigation into the causes of the last moment snafu involving the failure of its French-built seismometer science instrument that last December forced the agency to cancel its planned liftoff this month.

NASA is now targeting a new launch window that begins May 5, 2018, for the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission aimed at studying the deep interior of Mars.

The May 2018 launch amounts to an unavoidable 26 month launch delay from the originally planned launch on March 4, 2016. Because of the immutable laws of orbital mechanics, launch opportunities to the Red Planet only occur every 26 months.

Since InSight would not have been able to carry out and fulfill its intended research objectives because of a vacuum leak in its defective seismometer instrument, NASA managers had no choice but to scrub this year’s launch and its outlook for a future revival seemed potentially uncertain at best in today’s constrained budget environment.

“The spacecraft had been on track to launch this month until a vacuum leak in its prime science instrument prompted NASA in December to suspend preparations for launch,” said NASA officials.

The leak, if left uncorrected, would have rendered the flawed probe useless to carry out the unprecedented scientific research foreseen to measure the planets seismic activity and sense for “Marsquakes” to determine the nature of the Red Planet’s deep interior.

“The science goals of InSight are compelling, and the NASA and CNES plans to overcome the technical challenges are sound,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

“The quest to understand the interior of Mars has been a longstanding goal of planetary scientists for decades. We’re excited to be back on the path for a launch, now in 2018.”

Artist rendition of NASA’s Mars InSight (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) Lander. InSight is based on the proven Phoenix Mars spacecraft and lander design with state-of-the-art avionics from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) missions. Credit: JPL/NASA
Artist rendition of NASA’s Mars InSight (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) Lander. InSight is based on the proven Phoenix Mars spacecraft and lander design with state-of-the-art avionics from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) missions. Credit: JPL/NASA

InSight is now slated for a Mars landing on Nov. 26, 2018.

The seismometer instrument is named Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and was provided by the Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) – the French national space agency equivalent to NASA. SEIS is one of the two primary science instruments aboard InSight. The other instrument measuring heat flow from the Martian interior is provided by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and is named Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3).

“InSight project managers recently briefed officials at NASA and France’s space agency, Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), on a path forward; the proposed plan to redesign the science instrument was accepted in support of a 2018 launch,” said NASA.

JPL will assume lead responsibility for insuring that the SEIS instrument operates properly with no leak.

The cost of the 2 year delay is still being assessed but expected to be in the tens of millions of dollars, likely over $100 million. How that will be payed for has yet to be determined.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for InSight and will place the spacecraft in storage while SEIS is fixed and until the 2018 launch date nears.

“We’re delighted that NASA has approved the launch of the InSight mission in May 2018,” Stu Spath, Lockhhed Martin spacecraft program manager told Universe Today.

“Currently, we are preparing the spacecraft to go into storage at our Space Systems facility near Denver.”

“Our team worked hard to get the InSight spacecraft built and tested, and although InSight didn’t launch this year as planned, we know ultimately the scientific knowledge it will bring us is crucial to our understanding of how Mars and other rocky planets formed.”

NASA's InSight Mars lander spacecraft in a Lockheed Martin clean room near Denver. As part of a series of deployment tests, the spacecraft was commanded to deploy its solar arrays in the clean room to test and verify the exact process that it will use on the surface of Mars.
NASA’s InSight Mars lander spacecraft in a Lockheed Martin clean room near Denver. As part of a series of deployment tests, the spacecraft was commanded to deploy its solar arrays in the clean room to test and verify the exact process that it will use on the surface of Mars.

InSight is funded by NASA’s Discovery Program of low cost, focused science missions along with the science instrument funding contributions from France and Germany.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer