Category Archives: Mars Exploration

InSight’s Drill – The Mole

The InSight team is trying to get the “Mole” to carry on sinking itself into the Martian soil. This image from NASA/JPL-Caltech on 25 July 2019.

Progress halted shortly after the probe was deployed. Speculation is the probe came upon a rock it could not compensate for.

A plan was devised and has been put into action. Will it work?

Basically the support structure was lifted out of the way by InSight revealing an interesting scenario and it could be a compaction problem:

NASA (click here): Scientists and engineers have been conducting tests to save the mole at JPL, which leads the InSight mission, as well as at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which provided HP3. Based on DLR testing, the soil may not provide the kind of friction the mole was designed for. Without friction to balance the recoil from the self-hammering motion, the mole would simply bounce in place rather than dig.

One sign of this unexpected soil type is apparent in images taken by a camera on the robotic arm: A small pit has formed around the mole as it’s been hammering in place.

“The images coming back from Mars confirm what we’ve seen in our testing here on Earth,” said HP3 Project Scientist Mattias Grott of DLR. “Our calculations were correct: This cohesive soil is compacting into walls as the mole hammers.”

The team wants to press on the soil near this pit using a small scoop on the end of the robotic arm. The hope is that this might collapse the pit and provide the necessary friction for the mole to dig.

It’s also still possible that the mole has hit a rock. While the mole is designed to push small rocks out of the way or deflect around them, larger ones will prevent the spike’s forward progress. That’s why the mission carefully selected a landing site that would likely have both fewer rocks in general and smaller ones near the surface.

The robotic arm’s grapple isn’t designed to lift the mole once it’s out of its support structure, so it won’t be able to relocate the mole if a rock is blocking it.

The team will be discussing what next steps to take based on careful analysis. Later this month, after releasing the arm’s grapple from the support structure, they’ll bring a camera in for some detailed images of the mole.

The Red Soil of Duluth

That’s Duluth MARS. Easy to see how Mars got the moniker “the red planet”.

NASA: This close-up image is of a 2-inch-deep hole produced using a new drilling technique for NASA’s Curiosity rover. The hole is about 0.6 inches (1.6 centimeters) in diameter. This image was taken by Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) on Sol 2057. It has been white balanced and contrast-enhanced.

Curiosity drilled this hole in a target called “Duluth” on May 20, 2018. It was the first rock sample captured by the drill since October 2016. A mechanical issue took the drill offline in December 2016.

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory had to innovate a new way for the rover to drill in order to restore this ability. The new technique, called Feed Extended Drilling (FED) keeps the drill’s bit extended out past two stabilizer posts that were originally used to steady the drill against Martian rocks. It lets Curiosity drill using the force of its robotic arm, a little more like a human would while drilling into a wall at home.

Image Credit: NASA

Lifting the Mole

You may remember the problems the Insight Lander is having with “the mole”. The mole being the heat probe deployed from the Insight Lander on Mars. The probe was designed to be pounded into the Martian surface as much as five-meters, but encountered problems shortly after the process of sinking it into the surface began. See “Hope for the Mole” to refresh your memory.

The probe stopped as if it hit a stone and was no longer straight up and down. Whether or not the probe hit an obstruction or had some other mechanical problem needs to be determined and the plan to find out involves lifting the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package or HP3 to get a better look at what was going on.

From NASA;

“Engineers at JPL and DLR have been working hard to assess the problem,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “Moving the support structure will help them gather more information and try at least one possible solution.”

The lifting sequence will begin in late June, with the arm grasping the support structure (InSight conducted some test movements recently). Over the course of a week, the arm will lift the structure in three steps, taking images and returning them so that engineers can make sure the mole isn’t being pulled out of the ground while the structure is moved. If removed from the soil, the mole can’t go back in.

The procedure is not without risk. However, mission managers have determined that these next steps are necessary to get the instrument working again.

We can see the structure has been lifted in this image taken on 24 June and we can clearly see the probe beneath the structure at an angle. It appears the probe is angled from being lifted, the package being lifted from one side with a pivot point on the ground, but it also appears the structure has been moved somewhat judging by the pad prints in the soil so what that means for the probe if anything is unclear.

Hopefully the mission team will get the instrument sorted out.

The image was taken with the Instrument Deployment Camera (NASA/JPL-Caltech

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.