NASA sent the InSight detector on Mars in early May, and today is the time for the most critical part: descent and landing on the surface of the red planet.
The detector will attempt a landing today Monday, November 26, at about 9 pm.
No landing on Mars is easy. Only 40% of the passengers and vehicles sent to the red planet during the last five decades have managed to reach the surface of the planet and of all the international space agencies that have been tested only NASA has managed to land its vehicles smoothly on Mars.
For InSight, however, mission managers are a little more confident than usual.
This is because the powered downhill mode that InSight will use has been tested a decade ago with the Phoenix lander. This spacecraft landed on the north pole of Mars, studied the planet's meteorological cycle, and even observed snowfall.
So today, Monday, InSight will follow a similar trajectory to enter the atmosphere of Mars at an altitude of 125km. It will use a combination of thermal shields, parachutes and power supplies to mitigate heating and slow down from 20.000 km / h to about 10 km / h before the three ends of the vehicle reach the surface of Mars.
In recent days, NASA has made minor course adjustments to ensure that InSight enters the Martian atmosphere at the right angle.
"Of course, there are always a lot of things that can go wrong," said Stu Spath, Lockheed program manager Martin InSight and director of Deep Space Exploration. Lockheed is the manufacturer of the spacecraft and the landing system. "Landing on another planet is one of the most difficult things we do in our field."
The InSight will land near the equator at Elysium Planitia, about 600 miles north of where Curiosity rover is now located. From NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, technicians have discovered that there are not many rocks in the area, and although it is a time of dust storms on Mars, there is currently no one that will cause landing problems.
NASA and Lockheed engineers will not know immediately if the spacecraft landed safely on the surface, as there is a time delay of 8,1 minutes in communications between Earth and Mars at present. On Monday afternoon, two CubeSats launched with InSight, the MarCO-A and -B, will broadcast the landing data in real time. However, they are experimental and NASA does not count on this data.
In the meantime, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will record InSight's entry, descent, and landing in real time, but will not transmit this information back to Earth for about three hours.
After landing (even if all goes well), the scientists will stabilize the ship and its scientific instruments.
On the sixteenth day of InSight on Mars, or Sol 16, the seismometer is scheduled to be launched and during Sol 38 it will develop a wind and thermal shield to protect its instruments from external conditions.
At Sol 50, InSight will begin piercing the surface of Mars until it reaches a depth of 5 meters. Finally, by March 2, all InSight instruments will send data to Earth to begin geological surveys of the planet.
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