August 22, 2012
Credit: Credit: NASA
Lockheed Martin Space Systems will build on the spacecraft heritage of the Phoenix program to construct NASA’s newest Discovery mission, a lander that will probe beneath the surface of Mars to understand more about the formation of the Solar System’s rocky planets.
InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations) is to be placed into orbit by a Delta II-class rocket in March 2016. Mission cost, minus the launcher — which has not be selected — and related services is capped at $425 million in 2010 dollars.
Arrival is set for September 2016. The lander carries two main instruments — a seismograph and heat flow probe — and is to land on the Elysium Planitia, a large flat area near Mars’ equator.
NASA describes its mission like a doctor’s visit: taking the “pulse” (seismology), “temperature (heat flow) and “reflexes” (precision tracking) of the planet. InSight will also carry a camera that will provide a 3-D view of the ground to help in placement of the seismometer and heat flow probe.
The mission will mark the first interior measurements of Mars.
The announcement comes as NASA just completed its most complex landing sequence ever, the multistep descent of the Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity” rover, which will explore the Martian surface. Insight will use the more conventional parachute descent that the Phoenix lander employed in 2007. Phoenix studied ice formation near Mars’ north pole.
While Lockheed Martin will use the basic Phoenix structure for InSight, the new spacecraft’s avionics will be upgraded to reflect advances since that mission, a company official says.