Category Archives: Mars Exploration

Hope for the Mole

I’ve been patiently waiting for an update on the “Mole”, that probe on the InSight lander that was to be pounded into the Martian soil to take temperature data. There is a plan.

Solving the problem could be almost as exciting as any science result at this point. Hope it works, good luck!

Under the InSight Lander

I always wondered what it looked like under the InSight Lander since it used thrusters to land.

Here we see the “pits” left by the thrusters, I’m actually surprised at how contained they are, figuring the surface would be more scoured out than it is.

The image above is a NASA contrast enhanced version to make the pits really show up. Here is the non-contrast enhanced image:

Thanks NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Here’s the original caption from NASA:

Thrusters under NASA’s InSight lander churned up soil during landing on Mars. This contrast-enhanced image, Figure 1, which has not been color-corrected, shows two pits excavated by the thrusters.

This image was taken by the Instrument Deployment Camera on InSight’s robotic arm. It was taken on Dec. 14, 2018, the 18th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.

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 the mission, go to https://mars.nasa.gov/insight.


Martian Clouds

This image was taken on 08 May 2019. Cloudy and cold that day. Max temp as measured by InSight was -21.6 C / 6.9 F, Min temp: -100.3 C / -148.5. The wind speed reached a maximum of 15.3 m/s / 34 mph.

NASA: NASA’s InSight Mars Lander used its Instrument Context Camera beneath the lander’s deck to image these drifting clouds at sunset on the Red Planet. This image was taken on April 25, 2019, the 145th Martian day, or sol, of the mission, starting at around 6:30 p.m. Mars local time.

Image Credit: NASA

Phobos Temperatures

The surprising (to me at least) findings from temperature observations of the Martian moon Phobos. The infrared signatures seem to shows the moon appears to get warm it is at times. I’m sure the warmth may be fleeting the but we are talking about nice warm and therefore comfortable summer temperatures for most of us here on Earth.

NASA’s caption: These are three different views of the Martian moon Phobos, as seen by NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter using its infrared camera, Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS). Each color represents a different temperature range.

The annotated version of this image labels each of these views with the dates when they were imaged by THEMIS. The two views on the left were taken while Phobos was in a half-moon phase, which is better for studying surface textures. The third, on the far-right, was taken in a full-moon phase, which is better for studying material composition.

A scale bar on the annotated image ranges from 150 to 300 degrees Kelvin, or -190 degrees Fahrenheit (-123 degrees Celsius) to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius).

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. THEMIS was developed by Arizona State University in Tempe, in collaboration with Raytheon Santa Barbara Remote Sensing.

The THEMIS investigation is led by Philip Christensen at ASU. The prime contractor for the Odyssey project, Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, developed and built the orbiter. Mission operations are conducted jointly from Lockheed Martin and from JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena.Image Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/SSI

New InSight Selfie

It’s getting dusty compared to the Dec 2018 version.

Can InSight be cleaned? Check this out.

This is NASA InSight’s second full selfie on Mars. Since taking its first selfie, the lander has removed its heat probe and seismometer from its deck, placing them on the Martian surface; a thin coating of dust now covers the spacecraft as well.

This selfie is a mosaic made up of 14 images taken on March 15 and April 11 – the 106th and 133rd Martian days, or sols, of the mission – by InSight’s Instrument Deployment Camera, located on its robotic arm.

InSight’s first selfie showed its instruments still on the deck. Now that they’re removed, the viewer can see the spacecraft’s air pressure sensor (white object in center), the tether box for its seismometer and the tether for its heat probe running across the deck. Also visible is its robotic arm and grapple.

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 provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London 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 temperature and wind sensors.Image Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech

Sunset by InSight

The Mars lander InSight captured this Martian sunset. According to NASA the InSight lander used the Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) on the end of its robotic arm to image this sunset on Mars on April 25, 2019, the 145th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. This was taken around 6:30 p.m. Mars local time.

I look at the images here and think about what a great science fair project for some enterprising student.

NASA’s caption: Included here are the “raw” versions of the image (above) and the color-corrected version below; it’s easier to see some details in the raw version, but the latter more accurately shows the image as the human eye would see it.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages InSight for the agency’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 provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London 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 temperature and wind sensors.

Image Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech

Opportunity’s Trail

The journey of one of the most successful Martian rovers ever. The lessons afforded from both Spirit and Opportunity hopefully will help both ESA and NASA with the next Martian rovers: the ExoMars and Mars2020.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA: This final traverse map for NASA’s Opportunity rover shows where the rover was located within Perseverance Valley on June 10, 2018, the last date it made contact with its engineering team.

Visible in this map is a yellow traverse route beginning at Opportunity’s landing site, Eagle Crater, and ranging 28.06 miles (45.16 kilometers) to its final resting spot on the rim of Endeavour Crater. The rover was descending down into the crater in Perseverance Valley when the dust storm ended its mission.

This map is made from several images taken by the Context Camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Those images are: B02_010486_1779_XN_02S005W, P15_006847_1770_XN_03S005W, and P13_006135_1789_XN_01S005W. Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego built and operates the camera.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Exploration Rover and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter projects for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Martian Weather Report

The Mars InSight lander is providing lots of good data from the surface of Mars.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/CAB

Some of the data includes pretty interesting weather readings from the lading site in the Elysium Plains near the Martian equator.

Check it out.

Marsquake Likely Detected

Well how about this! A Marsquake may have been detected by the InSight Mars Lander!

If true this would show the planet is not dead and would be a huge finding.

I wonder how close an impact by a space rock would have to be register. How would they know the difference between an impact and an actual (internal) quake? They can probably tell by the seismic waveform; I can’t think of a reason it would be any different than they are here on Earth.

The reading will receive more scrutiny to be sure. Hopefully confirmation one way or another will come soon.

Image/Video: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CNES/IPGP/Imperial College London

NASA’s caption: This video and audio illustrates a seismic event detected by NASA’s InSight on April 6, 2019, the 128th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Three distinct kinds of sounds can be heard, all of them detected as ground vibrations by the spacecraft’s seismometer, called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS): There’s noise from Martian wind; the seismic event itself; and the spacecraft’s robotic arm as it moves to take pictures.

This event is the first likely marsquake recorded by the InSight team. Several other seismic events have been recorded but are much more ambiguous than this signal.

The audio underscores just how seismically noisy the Martian surface can be and was produced from two sets of sensors included with SEIS. You can hear sounds from the Very Broad Band sensors from your left speakers and sounds from the Short Period sensors from your right speakers. Audio from both sets of sensors have been sped up by a factor of 60; the actual vibrations on Mars would not have been audible to the human ear.

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.

For more information about the mission, go to https://mars.nasa.gov/insight.

Building Mars 2020

What a place to work! This is a very impressive clean-room. I once worked in a clean-room and quite enjoyed the experience, but that room was nothing like this.

NASA: For the past few months, the clean room floor in High Bay 1 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has been covered in parts, components and test equipment for the Mars 2020 spacecraft, scheduled for launch toward the Red Planet in July of 2020. But over the past few weeks, some of these components — the spacecraft-rocket-laden landing system and even the stand-in for the rover (christened “surrogate-rover”) — have seemingly disappeared.

In reality, they are still there, tucked neatly into the entry capsule, as they will be when it’s time for launch. The procedure is known as vehicle stacking and involves a hyper-detailed plan for what goes where and when.

“One of our main jobs is to make sure the rover and all the hardware that is required to get the rover from here on Earth to the surface of Mars fits inside the payload fairing of an Atlas V rocket, which gives us about 15 feet [5 meters] of width to work with,” said David Gruel, assembly, test and launch operations (ATLO) manager for Mars 2020 at JPL.

The first step is to place the rocket-powered descent stage on top of the surrogate rover (the real rover is being integrated and tested in tandem with the spacecraft stack). Then, when all the holes line up and everything is attached, checked and re-checked again, the back shell is lowered over them via gantry crane.

“That crane has lifted almost every spacecraft that’s come through JPL since Mariner,” said Gruel. “To safely lift the large pieces of the Mars 2020 spacecraft, we utilize a dozen technicians and engineers.”

After the back shell is in place and everything is determined to be fitting properly, the team puts on the parachute nose cone, which protects the parachute during atmospheric entry, followed by the massive doughnut-shaped cruise stage, which will power the Mars 2020 spacecraft on its seven-month voyage to the Red Planet. Then the vehicle stack is turned on its side so technicians and engineers have access to the mating points between the cruise and descent stages to make connections. The stack is then returned to its original position (cruise stage on top) so the heat shield can be raised into position and attached.

“Stacking is an important milestone in mission development, because as good as our computer models are, we still need to put it together to show that the bolt holes line up and everything fits together,” said Gruel. “It is a great feeling for the entire project when we see the stack sitting there waiting to go for the next part of its journey, which will eventually lead to a launch pad at the Cape Canaveral in July of next year.”

After three weeks, stacking is finished on April 3, and the spacecraft is transported to JPL’s Environmental Test Facility to undergo acoustic testing. During this testing the stack will be bombarded with a thundering wall of sound designed to imitate the sound waves generated during launch. Then, after a check to make sure no bolts have rattled loose or attachment points have become unstuck, the stack heads to the thermal vacuum chamber for a week-long test that simulates the harsh environment of space to assess how the Mars-bound craft and its instruments operate under flightlike conditions.

“Nothing is static with this mission,” said Gruel. “After the acoustic and thermal vac tests, the stacked spacecraft is returned to the assembly building for de-stack, then more testing and more work. Until the hold-down bolts on the Atlas rocket blow and our rover is headed to Mars in July of 2020, there is almost always something being assembled, tested or modified.”  

The Mars 2020 rover will conduct geological assessments of its landing site on Mars, determine the habitability of the environment, search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers. Scientists will use the instruments aboard the rover to identify and collect samples of rock and soil, encase them in sealed tubes and leave them on the planet’s surface for potential return to Earth on a future Mars mission.

The Mars 2020 Project at JPL manages rover development for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.