InSight Is Catching Rays on Mars
November 27, 2018
NASA's InSight has sent signals to Earth indicating that its solar
panels are open and collecting sunlight on the Martian surface. NASA's
Mars Odyssey orbiter relayed the signals, which were received on Earth
at about 5:30 p.m. PST (8:30 p.m. EST). Solar array deployment ensures
the spacecraft can recharge its batteries each day. Odyssey also relayed
a pair of images showing InSight's landing site.
The Instrument Deployment Camera
(IDC), located on the robotic arm of NASA's InSight lander, took this
picture off the Martian surface on Nov. 26, 2018, the same day the
spacecraft touched down on the Red Planet. The camera's transparent dust
cover is still on in this image, to prevent particulates kicked up
during landing from settling on the camera's lens. This image was
relayed from InSight to Earth via NASA's Odyssey spacecraft, currently
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena,
California, manages the InSight Project for NASA's Science Mission
Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space, Denver, Colorado built
the spacecraft. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, which is
managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
"The InSight team can rest a little
easier tonight now that we know the spacecraft solar arrays are deployed
and recharging the batteries," said Tom Hoffman, InSight's project
manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California,
which leads the mission. "It's been a long day for the team. But
tomorrow begins an exciting new chapter for InSight: surface operations
and the beginning of the instrument deployment phase."
InSight's twin solar arrays are each 7 feet (2.2 meters) wide; when
they're open, the entire lander is about the size of a big 1960s
convertible. Mars has weaker sunlight than Earth because it's much
farther away from the Sun. But the lander doesn't need much to operate:
The panels provide 600 to 700 watts on a clear day, enough to power a
household blender and plenty to keep its instruments conducting science
on the Red Planet. Even when dust covers the panels — what is likely to
be a common occurrence on Mars — they should be able to provide at least
200 to 300 watts.
The panels are modeled on those used with NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander,
though InSight’s are slightly larger in order to provide more power
output and to increase their structural strength. These changes were
necessary to support operations for one full Mars year (two Earth
In the coming days, the mission team will unstow InSight's robotic arm
and use the attached camera to snap photos of the ground so that
engineers can decide where to place the spacecraft's scientific
instruments. It will take two to three months before those instruments
are fully deployed and sending back data.
In the meantime, InSight will use its weather sensors and magnetometer
to take readings from its landing site at Elysium Planitia — its new
home on Mars.
manages InSight for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part
of NASA's Discovery Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space
Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver
built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and
supports spacecraft operations for the mission.
A number of European partners, including France's Centre National
d'Études Spatiales (CNES), the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP)
and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight
mission. CNES and IPGP provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior
Structure (SEIS) instrument, with significant contributions from the Max
Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany, the Swiss
Institute of Technology (ETH) in Switzerland, Imperial College and
Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and JPL. DLR provided the Heat
Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant
contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy
of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología
(CAB) supplied the wind sensors.