NASA’s Mars InSight Flexes Its Arm

This image from InSight’s robotic-arm mounted Instrument Deployment Camera shows the instruments on the spacecraft’s deck, with the Martian surface of Elysium Planitia in the background. The image was received on Dec. 4, 2018 (Sol 8). (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — New images from NASA’s Mars InSight lander show its robotic arm is ready to do some lifting.

With a reach of nearly 6 feet (2 meters), the arm will be used to pick up science instruments from the lander’s deck, gently setting them on the Martian surface at Elysium Planitia, the lava plain where InSight touched down on Nov. 26.

But first, the arm will use its Instrument Deployment Camera, located on its elbow, to take photos of the terrain in front of the lander. These images will help mission team members determine where to set InSight’s seismometer and heat flow probe — the only instruments ever to be robotically placed on the surface of another planet.

“Today we can see the first glimpses of our workspace,” said Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “By early next week, we’ll be imaging it in finer detail and creating a full mosaic.”

Another camera, called the Instrument Context Camera, is located under the lander’s deck. It will also offer views of the workspace, though the view won’t be as pretty.

An image of InSight’s robotic arm, with its scoop and stowed grapple, poised above the Martian soil. The image was received on Dec. 4, 2018 (Sol 8). (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“We had a protective cover on the Instrument Context Camera, but somehow dust still managed to get onto the lens,” said Tom Hoffman of JPL, InSight’s project manager. “While this is unfortunate, it will not affect the role of the camera, which is to take images of the area in front of the lander where our instruments will eventually be placed.”

Placement is critical, and the team is proceeding with caution. Two to three months could go by before the instruments have been situated and calibrated.

Over the past week and a half, mission engineers have been testing those instruments and spacecraft systems, ensuring they’re in working order. A couple instruments are even recording data: a drop in air pressure, possibly caused by a passing dust devil, was detected by the pressure sensor. This, along with a magnetometer and a set of wind and temperature sensors, are part of a package called the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem, which will collect meteorological data.

A partial view of the deck of NASA’s InSight lander, where it stands on the Martian plains Elysium Planitia. The image was received on Dec. 4, 2018 (Sol 8). (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

More images from InSight’s arm were scheduled to come down this past weekend. However, imaging was momentarily interrupted, resuming the following day. During the first few weeks in its new home, InSight has been instructed to be extra careful, so anything unexpected will trigger what’s called a fault. Considered routine, it causes the spacecraft to stop what it is doing and ask for help from operators on the ground.

“We did extensive testing on Earth. But we know that everything is a little different for the lander on Mars, so faults are not unusual,” Hoffman said. “They can delay operations, but we’re not in a rush. We want to be sure that each operation that we perform on Mars is safe, so we set our safety monitors to be fairly sensitive initially.”

Spacecraft engineers had already factored extra time into their estimates for instrument deployment to account for likely delays caused by faults. The mission’s primary mission is scheduled for two Earth years, or one Mars year — plenty of time to gather data from the Red Planet’s surface.

About InSight

JPL 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) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (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.

For more information about InSight, visit:

https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/

  • windbourne

    I look forward to the HP3. If Mars shows a decent temp in the ground, then it will make it possible to do geo-thermal electricity (small amounts, but ideal for running probes), as well as geo-thermal HVAC.
    Of course, if we have a few nuclear power plants, that would be good.

  • Paul_Scutts

    Agreed, windbourne, the more power options, the better. Regards, Paul.

  • se jones

    Sorry no, the thermal gradient will be just millidegrees, enough for scientists to extrapolate some global physics, but not enough ∆T for useful work. The TES on Global Surveyor did not see any significant geo-thermal spots on Mars.

    Never the less, I have running bets in play, that the Insight SEIS will either “hear” magma movement below Tharsis, or (if we get lucky) an impact in the right spot will allow the inference of something um “gooey” under Tharsis. There are some very young lava flows on the plateau, the odds that the complex would just happen to shut down in the same epoc as the naked monkeys on the third rock developed spaceflight…are just too remote.

  • windbourne

    Ah. U are thinking crust only. If say 50 m down the temp is constant 0C, then it is a simple matter of using atmosphere night temp. Yes, it will not be a 24×7 operation , but it would by 7 .