Thursday, August 30, 2012

NASA approves Martian lander InSight for 2016 mission

ATLANTA -- NASA approved a new discovery mission to Mars which will feature the first extensive exploration of the planet's internal structure.

The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, or InSight, lander will lift-off for the Red Planet on March 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral and land eight months later at a sight along the equator.

NASA hopes the spacecraft will provide new insight into several key questions such as does Mars have a liquid or solid core, and to learn about the planet's internal motions including the Sun's effect on the fourth planet from our closest star.

"In 2016, we will be landing a static lander and the main purpose is to deploy a seismometer instrument to see if there are any quakes on Mars," Dr. Charles Elachi, Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech explained to this aerospace reporter on Wednesday.

"More importantly to use that signal from the quake to look at the internal structure of Mars, it's core and how does it compare to earth," Dr. Elachi stated as we stood outside on the campus of Georgia Tech. "So it's really an experiment to compare the internal structure of Mars with the internal structure of Earth and it's moon."

The geophysical lander and it's instruments will be built by both American and international aerospace companies over the next two years. Lockheed Martin Space Systems will build the lander while the German Aerospace Center will build the HP3 heat probe.

NASA's JPL will instruct the lander to drill down into Mars to take the first internal temperature readings of another planet.

"InSight has a drill which will go down about five feet to measure the heat flow," Dr. Elachi added. "How is the heat flowing on the inside of Mars and up to the surface?"

France's space agency is at work on a seismometer known as SEIS which will measure seismic waves inside the Red Planet.

The new lander will feature several cameras, including the first 3D still camera on another world. Dr. Elachi explained, however, all of InSight's camera will be in black and white.

(Charles Atkeison reports on science & technology. Follow his aerospace updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Scientific rover Curiosity prepares for landing on Mars

PASADENA, Calif. -- A massive scientific rover is set to make a dynamic landing on the planet Mars on Sunday night, a type of landing which has never been tried on another world, beginning two years of exploration.

The Mars Curiosity rover will enter the atmosphere of the Red Planet protected by a heat shield and then streak across the alien atmosphere on a course to land at the base of a three-mile high mountain known as Aeolis Mons inside Gale Crater.

The rover's landing phase will have scientists at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab and observers across the planet tuned in as a huge sky crane separates upward from the rover unit and fires thrusters to slow the rover down.

Suspended by cables twenty-five feet long, Curiosity will be gently sat down inside Gale crater at 1:17 a.m. EDT on Monday. Official word of it's landing will be received fourteen minutes later at JPL.

The exact landing zone will be in the northwest section of the the 96-mile wide crater.

Once safely down the cables will separate from the never before flown sky crane and it will jet away off into the horizon.

Curiosity is part of the Mars Science Laboratory which will roam the Martian surface for 23 Earth months looking for signs of life within it's environmental history.

"This may be one of the thickest exposed sections of layered sedimentary rocks in the solar system," states NASA MSL Deputy Project Scientist Joy Crisp. "The rock record preserved in those layers holds stories that are billions of years old -- stories about whether, when, and for how long Mars might have been habitable."

The ten-foot long rover will arrive loaded with the latest technology for taking soil samples and will use a laser to blast apart rocks to study it's makeup.

 Curiosity will have several high resolution cameras aboard one of which is at the top of it's mast. JPL scientists state you will view Mars like never before.

The rover began it's 567 million mile journey from Cape Canaveral on November 26 high atop an Atlas V rocket.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science & technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

copyright 1998 - 2010 Charles Atkeison, All rights reserved.