Nasa probe “InSight”: 4 hours to Mars landing

After half a year and 485 million kilometers, it should be ready this evening around 9 pm: The NASA robot “InSight “Should land on Mars. On board is the “Mars Mole” HP3 from the German Aerospace Center.

Image of the Martian

Once “Insight” landed, the probe HP3 of the German Aerospace Center will be dropped by a gripping arm of the Marslander in a suitable location.

Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech

If all goes according to plan , the Mars Lander “InSight” (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) will land on Mars in about 4 hours. The US space agency NASA had sent him in May on the 485 million kilometer journey in the direction of Mars. On board is the research probe HP3 (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package), which was developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

According to Nasa scientists’ calculations, ” InSight “in the plane Elysium Planitia north of the Martian equator. This area is suitable for landing as it is largely level and free of larger stones and rocks. All previous Mars missions have not explored this area from the ground yet. In contrast to the NASA rover “Curiosity” “InSight” will not move, but stay at the landing site. The still active “Curiosity” is located about 500 kilometers from the planned landing site.

Robotic arm will launch “Marsmaulwurf” HP3

As soon as the Marslander lands safely, the search for a suitable location for the “Marsmaulwurf”, as the DLR researchers affectionately call the HP3 probe. A robotic arm attached to InSight will place HP3 at the selected location. “At the landing site, we expect 3 to 7 meters of loose material in the ground,” says Matthias Grott from DLR. This condition is important because HP3 is set up for digging in loose sand. “If we hit a big rock and get stuck, it’s over.”

HP3 looks a bit like a mini rocket: it’s a 40-centimeter-long pole that tapers forward. The “Marsmaulwurf” is to penetrate to a depth of 5 meters, each in increments of 50 centimeters. This is made possible by an electrically driven, fully automatic hammer mechanism. A cable connects “InSight” and HP3. This allows scientists to measure the heat flow in fashions permanently. It is planned that the “Marsmile” will send data towards Earth over a period of 2 years.

“InSight” wants to explore the interior of Mars

“The entire mission wants to explore the interior of Mars,” says Tilman Spohn from DLR, who leads the project “HP3” scientifically. The goal of the mission is to learn more about the structure of Mars and the dynamics that hide beneath its surface. To do so, contribute the “Marsmaulwurf” by measuring soil temperature and conductivity. Because basically every planet is a heat engine. The more waste heat this machine produces, the greater the work the engine does inside. From the measured waste heat data, mathematical models for the formation of Mars will be created, according to Spohn.

Incidentally, there is another research instrument on board the Marslander besides HP3, which was co-developed by German researchers. This is a seismometer that will measure the vibrations of the Martian soil and possible Marsquakes. Scientists from DLR and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen were involved in the development.

So ​​far, only 40% of all Mars missions have been successful

The landing of “Insight” would be the first Mars landing NASA since the landing of the Mars rover “Curiosity” in 2012. Only about 40% of the Mars missions launched worldwide have so far been successful, says NASA. The tension is correspondingly high among the researchers. The European space agency ESA got to feel that Mars landing is difficult in the year 2016: Due to a computer error the probe “Schiaparelli” crashed during the landing approach.

That should not happen with “InSight”. Nasa scientists and German researchers will watch the “InSight” landing as closely as many space enthusiasts. Public viewing events are planned across the globe.