The InSight contract award, announced last week, came as the car-sized rover Curiosity was making its first moves to explore the Martian surface after completing the most complex landing sequence ever attempted on the planet. At about 770 lb., InSight has less than half the mass of Curiosity (1,982 lb.), so its descent through the thin Martian atmosphere will be far more manageable. The same aeroshell and parachute braking system used by Phoenix will be deployed.
Also built by Lockheed Martin, Phoenix determined that water ice exists near the surface of Mars' north pole. That mission lasted only 7 months, not the 3.7 years expected for InSight. Lockheed Martin Mission Systems Manager Stacy Weinstein-Weiss says InSight benefits by being a far simpler mission given its limited instrument package and immobility.
Lockheed Martin Program Manager Stu Sparth says the goal is a “low risk” mission. The company's Denver facility will rely on the Mars 01 lander deck, a prototype for Phoenix, as InSight's platform. That plan means Lockheed Martin has an already qualified structure. As a result, “we have a really big head start,” Weinstein-Weiss says.
InSight's avionics will be a copy of what Lockheed Martin built for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (Maven) orbiter, which is set for launch late next year. It is to be placed into an orbit around Mars in the fall of 2014. A sister project of Phoenix, Maven will study the Martian atmosphere.
InSight's drill for penetrating the Martian soil has been tested in the desert around Mojave, Calif. Called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), it relies on a 14-in.-long, hollowed-out stake dubbed the Tractor Mole to break the surface. The Tractor Mole uses an internal hammer that strikes a worm-drive penetrator. As it rises and falls, the stake is driven into the soil, dragging a tether behind it. For a NASA web video on the InSight mission, go to www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/index.cfm?id=1121.