“Seven minutes of terror”: how will the landing module to Mars InSight

The last time the space Agency NASA has conducted the landing of a spacecraft on the surface of Mars six years ago. It was a Curiosity. However, next week, on November 26 in the planet’s atmosphere will enter a new InSight spacecraft, which will attempt a landing in the Martian region of Elysium, North of the place where it was landed the Rover “Curiosity”. Unlike other missions, in which landers and Rovers are usually used to study of surface geological features of the red planet, InSight will be the first mission to study the internal features of the structure of Mars.

NASA, of course, very interested in the study of the red planet’s surface, but of no less interest to the Agency call the “insides” of the planet. For example, scientists do not know what is in the core of Mars, how big was it and did the planet in its geological activity. To address these questions it is necessary to look inside. That this will and the lander mission InSight. But first he will have to survive the “7 minutes of terror.” That’s how much time it will take the module to enter the Martian atmosphere, the descent and the actual landing on the surface.

“We are really looking forward to it. There is nothing more amazing landing on Mars. We are fully prepared for this event. At least, as far as possible”, — says the head of the mission InSight Tom Hoffman.

Before the module will proceed to the entrance into the atmosphere, lowering and landing the mission team is going to once again review all the possible scenarios.

Preparation and planting

About 24 hours before landing team at the jet propulsion Laboratory of NASA (JPL) will hold the last corrective maneuvers of the camera. To decrease went smoothly, the spacecraft should enter the Martian atmosphere under precisely calculated the corner. If the angle is too steep, the unit will evaporate upon entering the atmosphere even faster than you can say “Oh no!”. If the angle is insufficient, the module will just bounce off the atmosphere back into space.

A few days before the landing, the deep space Network, NASA will track the movement of the apparatus based on the Doppler shift. This stage will be the last opportunity to calculate the correct trajectory of the input apparatus into the atmosphere.

The final report before planting will start at 9 am Pacific or 8 PM Moscow time on November 26. In three hours from this moment, the apparatus will have to sit on the surface of Mars. Large antenna Network for deep space network of NASA in tandem will begin tracking the device. By analyzing the delay signals, scientists can determine exactly where the lander. To correct errors due to atmospheric and space conditions, the scientists intend to use data of quasars. This will be carried out by measuring the difference in time of recording of radio signals received from the camera two remote from each other antennas.

About 10 minutes before the start of the decline in InSight will reset the main stage – the protective shell in which he had been held since its launch from Earth. Once that happens, start those 7 minutes of terror. Before control center mission will be able to breathe a sigh of relief the unit will have to go through the following:

  • The rate of descent of the lander InSight at the time of entry will be nearly 21 thousand kilometers per hour;
  • Thermal protective screen module will heat up to 1,400 degrees Celsius – enough to melt steel. This temperature will be maintained for 3.5 minutes before the moment that will be revealed on the landing parachute. 30 seconds after parachute deployment, the module will reset the heat shield;
  • Immediately after this, turn on on-Board radar, which will begin pelengovat the planet’s surface. With each signal bearing a machine will make calculations of the distance from the surface, and the speed of its reduction;
  • About 40 seconds before landing InSight will reset the entire landing gear and about a minute to be in free fall. To prevent entanglement in the parachute and the collision with the heat shield, the machine will start to spin, a little away from the original reducing;
  • In just a few seconds before coming in contact with the surface of the planet, InSight will turn on their landing thrusters. Less than 7 minutes, the module will slow down from a speed of 21,000 km/h to 8 km/h.

Artistic concept of the InSight lander with the established instruments on the Martian surface

The module itself “call” home

Conventionally, in order to see how was landing, the Agency uses communications satellites, which receive data from devices and forwards them to the Earth. To get a signal to the satellites must be located in the right spot and the right time. But InSight has its own satellites. This is the first planetary mission, which the Agency uses two personal communications satellite-cubata — MarCO MarCO A and B (or Marco/Polo, as they are called in the control center mission).

They were launched a small-sized box will also be used as relays during a 7-minute reduction of the apparatus. After each step of the landing, starting from entering the atmosphere and before starting the landing engines, a transmitter mounted on Board of InSight, to transmit data to they were launched, and they in turn will immediately transmit them to the antenna Network for deep space network NASA and to the control center at the jet propulsion Laboratory.

Between the sending and receiving of data will have a delay, so if you InSight you will not be able to successfully sit down, scientists learn about it only after 8 minutes. Nevertheless, the team is optimistic. Almost immediately after their landing module will have to take a picture of the surface of Mars and send her to the Ground. Although the photo is likely not the best quality (at planting will rise a lot of Martian dust), one on the Ground will be the best news of the day.

“As soon as we receive confirmation of a successful landing and the first photo from the surface, the team that conducted the preparation and coordination of the landing, going to relax and celebrate. The rest will proceed with the scientific part of this mission. In the end, the main goal of this mission is scientific research. We will talk about it” — says Hoffman.

After InSight will land on Mars, will make some photos of their environment, as well as the study of the soil around him, the team will have to perform another important task is the deployment of scientific equipment.

Unlike other landing modules and Rovers who have all the scientific instruments were part of the body, InSight bears on its “back” removable devices that you will need to grab, pull and slowly placed on the surface of Mars using a robotic arm. Now note that this operation will last for three months. Anyway, now all the attention and training focused on the landing module. While success is not guaranteed.

“Any successful landing on Mars – a real event. The fact that the total international amount of successful landings on the Red planet is small. It is only about 40 percent. In other words, landing on Mars is always a real test,” concludes Hoffman.

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