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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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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This is What the Ground Looked Like After InSight Landed on Mars

When InSight landed on Mars on Nov. 26th, 2018, it deployed a parachute to slow its descent through the thin Martian atmosphere. As it approached the surface, it fired its retro rocket to slow it even more, and then gently touched down on the surface. As it did so, its retro rockets excavated two small pits in the Martian soil.

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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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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 has Placed its Heat Probe on the Martian Surface. The Next Step is to Jackhammer Down 5 Meters and Hope it Doesn’t Encounter a Large Rock

The HP3 on the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/DLR

NASA’s InSight lander has finally placed its heat probe on the surface of Mars. The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) was deployed on February 12th, about one meter away from SEIS, the landers seismometer. Soon it’ll start hammering its way into the Martian soil.

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InSight Just Placed its Seismometer onto the Surface of Mars to Listen for Marsquakes

This copper-colored hexagonal box is an insulating container for SEIS. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s InSight lander has deployed its first instrument on the surface of Mars. On December 19th, the stationary lander used its robotic arm to deploy the SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure), marking the first time a seismometer has been placed on the surface of another planet. This is a milestone for the mission, and one that comes well ahead of schedule.

InSight landed on Mars at Elysium Planitia on November 26th. Since then, it’s been checking out its immediate surroundings with its cameras to find the perfect spot to deploy the seismometer, and its other deployable instrument, the HP3 (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package.) Mission planners allocated several weeks for instrument site selection, so this is well ahead of schedule.
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NASA’s Insight Lander Spreads Its Solar Wings. It’ll Fly To Mars In May, 2018

The Insight lander responds to commands to spread its solar arrays during a January 23, 2018 test at the Lockheed Martin clean room in Littleton, Colorado. Image: Lockheed Martin Space

May 2018 is the launch window for NASA’s next mission to Mars, the InSight Lander. InSight is the next member of what could be called a fleet of human vehicles destined for Mars. But rather than working on the question of Martian habitability or suitability for life, InSight will try to understand the deeper structure of Mars.

InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. InSight will be the first robotic explorer to visit Mars and study the red planet’s deep interior. The work InSight does should answer questions about the formation of Mars, and those answers may apply to the history of the other rocky planets in the Solar System. The lander, (InSight is not a rover) will also measure meteorite impacts and tectonic activity happening on Mars currently.

This video helps explain why Mars is a good candidate to answer questions about how all our rocky planets formed, not just Mars itself.

InSight was conceived as part of NASA’s Discovery Program, which are missions focused on important questions all related to the “content, origin, and evolution of the solar system and the potential for life elsewhere”, according to NASA. Understanding how our Solar System and its planets formed is a key part of the Discovery Program, and is the question InSight was built to answer.

This artist's illustration of InSight on a photo background of Mars shows the lander fully deployed. The solar arrays are open, and in the foreground two of its instruments are shown. On the left is the SEIS instrument, and on the right is the HP3 probe. Image: NASA/Lockheed Martin
This artist’s illustration of InSight on a photo background of Mars shows the lander fully deployed. The solar arrays are open, and in the foreground two of its instruments are shown. On the left is the SEIS instrument, and on the right is the HP3 probe. Image: NASA/Lockheed Martin

To do its work, InSight will deploy three instruments: SEIS, HP³, and RISE.

SEIS

This is InSight’s seismic instrument, designed to take the Martian pulse. It stands for Seismic Experiment for Internal Structure.

In this image, InSight's Instrument Deployment Arm is practicing placing SEIS on the surface. Image: NASA/Lockheed Martin
In this image, InSight’s Instrument Deployment Arm is practicing placing SEIS on the surface. Image: NASA/Lockheed Martin

SEIS sits patiently under its dome, which protects it from Martian wind and thermal effects, and waits for something to happen. What’s it waiting for? For seismic waves caused by Marsquakes, meteorite impacts, or by the churning of magma deep in the Martian interior. These waves will help scientists understand the nature of the material that first formed Mars and the other rocky planets.

HP³

HP³ is InSight’s heat probe. It stands for Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe. Upon deployment on the Martian surface, HP³ will burrow 5 meters (16 ft.) into Mars. No other instrument has ever pierced Mars this deeply. Once there, it will measure the heat flowing deeply within Mars.

In this image, the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe is shown inserted into Mars. Image: NASA
In this image, the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe is shown inserted into Mars. Image: NASA

Scientists hope that the heat measured by HP³ will help them understand whether or not Mars formed from the same material that Earth and the Moon formed from. It should also help them understand how Mars evolved after it was formed.

RISE

RISE stands for Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment. RISE will measure the Martian wobble as it orbits the Sun, by precisely tracking InSight’s position on the surface. This will tell scientists a lot about the deep inner core of Mars. The idea is to determine the depth at which the Martian core is solid. It will also tell us which elements are present in the core. Basically, RISE will tell us how Mars responds to the Sun’s gravity as it orbits the Sun. RISE consists of two antennae on top of InSight.

The two RISE antennae are shown in this image. RISE will reveal information about the Martian core by tracking InSight's position while Mars orbits the Sun. Image: NASA/Lockheed Martin
The two RISE antennae are shown in this image. RISE will reveal information about the Martian core by tracking InSight’s position while Mars orbits the Sun. Image: NASA/Lockheed Martin

InSight will land at Elysium Planitia which is a flat and smooth plain just north of the Martian equator. This is considered a perfect location or InSight to study the Martian interior. The landing sight is not far from where Curiosity landed at Gale Crater in 2012.

InSight will land at Elysium Planitia, just north of the Martian equator. Image: NASA/JPL-CalTech
InSight will land at Elysium Planitia, just north of the Martian equator. Image: NASA/JPL-CalTech

InSight will be launched to Mars from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California by an Atlas V-401 rocket. The trip to Mars will take about 6 months. Once on the Martian surface, InSight’s mission will have a duration of about 728 Earth days, or just over 1 Martian year.

InSight won’t be launching alone. The Atlas that launches the lander will also launch another NASA technology experiment. MarCO, or Mars Cube One, is two suitcase-size CubeSats that will travel to Mars behind InSight. Once in orbit around Mars, their job is to relay InSight data as the lander enters the Martian atmosphere and lands. This will be the first time that miniaturized CubeSat technology will be tested at another planet.

One of the MarCO Cubesats that will be launched with InSight. This will be the first time that CubeSat technology will be tested at another planet. Image: NASA/JPL-CalTech
One of the MarCO Cubesats that will be launched with InSight. This will be the first time that CubeSat technology will be tested at another planet. Image: NASA/JPL-CalTech

If the MarCO experiment is successful, it could be a new way of relaying mission data to Earth. MarCO will relay news of a successful landing, or of any problems, much sooner. However, the success of the InSight lander is not dependent on a successful MarCO experiment.