Category Archives: Mars Exploration

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

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.

The View in Front of InSight

Here’s a look from the Instrument Context Camera (ICC) looking towards the front of the InSight Lander on Mars.

The foot-pads of the lander seem to be pressed well into the Martian soil which has several small rocks scattered about. The rocks are in the subsoil as well and there could be such rocks blocking the “mole”, the probe that hammers itself into the ground to take thermal conductivity tests.

The mole hit some obstruction shortly after it began and has been stopped. There is a plan forward, the team was going to command a 10 or 15 minute hammering session to see if they can get through. They also were also to take a thermal conductivity reading, a 24 hour test, the results of which might be downloaded today (?). There have been no updates on either of these as yet.


Instrument Context Camera on Mars

Here’s a look at InSight’s seismometer on Mars, taken just yesterday. I believe he instrument was supposed to start taking data about now, but no updates to confirm that. Sooner or later we’ll hear something, I’m not even sure how much of the mission team is working – given the current state of things politically. I have a good feeling the mission team(s) are very anxious to get back to normal.

NASA — NASA’s InSight Mars lander acquired this image of the area in front of the lander using its lander-mounted, Instrument Context Camera (ICC).

This image was acquired on January 15, 2019, Sol 48 of the InSight mission where the local mean solar time for the image exposures was 17:40:01.089 PM. Each ICC image has a field of view of 124 x 124 degrees.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

By the way, in an unrelated story, Hubble has resumed the use of the Wide Field Camera 3 after it went to a safe-mode state a few days ago. Apparently software detected voltage being out of range and prompted the event. After resetting certain circuits everything seemed to be operating at normal limits and the camera was put back into operation.

For a larger version of the Insight image above click here.

InSight On Mars

Very nice image from the surface of Mars from the InSight Lander, thanks to NASA and JPL-Caltech. Do you know what that hexagonal copper colored box is? Its the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure instrument or SEIS and at some point soon will be placed on the surface and it apparently functions properly because it could feel vibrations from the Martian wind – see here.

Marsquakes? I hope so, but we will have to wait and see.

NASA: 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 color-calibrated picture was acquired on Dec. 4, 2018 (Sol 8). In the foreground, a copper-colored hexagonal cover protects the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure instrument (SEIS), a seismometer that will measure marsquakes. The gray dome behind SEIS is the wind and thermal shield, which will be placed over SEIS. To the left is a black cylindrical instrument, the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3). HP3 will drill up to 16 feet (5 meters) below the Martian surface, measuring heat released from the interior of the planet. Above the deck is InSight’s robotic arm, with the stowed grapple directly facing the camera.

To the right can be seen a small portion of one of the two solar panels that help power InSight and part of the UHF communication antenna.

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.

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 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 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

InSight IDC Cam First Light

Nice first-light image from InSight’s Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) camera courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech.
No word yet on what the ground under the lander is like, there is some rock by the looks from this view. One of the experiments needs to basically drill down into the ground but it cannot drill through rock, so we will wait and see.

Anyway, a very nice images indeed and click it to see a larger version.

Here’s the caption released by NASA: The Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC), located on the robotic arm of NASA’s InSight lander, took this picture off the Martian surface on Nov. 26, 2018, the same day the spacecraft touched down on the Red Planet. The camera’s transparent dust cover is still on in this image, to prevent particulates kicked up during landing from settling on the camera’s lens. This image was relayed from InSight to Earth via NASA’s Odyssey spacecraft, currently orbiting Mars.

InSight Landing Coverage – Replay

Here’s a replay from Fox 10 Phoenix. Fox 10 Phoenix shows quite a lot of news and quite often police chases.

Good Luck InSight!!

MarCo’s are working well!

600 meters and it looks pretty good!

TOUCHDOWN!!!! The emotion in the control room was spectacular as you might expect.

Now how well is the spacecraft?

Apparently pretty good we now have an image as you can see.

Waiting for the “phone home” event. Ah it it seems InSight is “happy”, great job/event!

InSight Ready to Land on Mars

Tomorrow is the day! InSight lands on Mars! Coverage should be pretty easy to find, we will of course have it so if you cannot get NASA TV, check in here at 09:00 UTC / 14:00 ET for a mirror of NASA’s Public channel

NASA also posted a time line of spacecraft actions I thought was pretty interesting, mostly because of the exactness of the timing.

I added in the UTC times below, funny NASA doesn’t do that. No matter, but if I mess up the conversions, it’s my error and not NASA’s. Remember the Beagles! (LOL)

Here’s the time line NASA published:
11:40 a.m. PST (2:40 p.m. EST / 19:40 UTC) — Separation from the cruise stage that carried the mission to Mars
11:41 a.m. PST (2:41 p.m. EST / 19:41 UTC) — Turn to orient the spacecraft properly for atmospheric entry
11:47 a.m. PST (2:47 p.m. EST / 19:47 UTC) — Atmospheric entry at about 12,300 mph (19,800 kph), beginning the entry, descent and landing phase
11:49 a.m. PST (2:49 p.m. EST / 19:49 UTC) — Peak heating of the protective heat shield reaches about 2,700°F (about 1,500°C)
15 seconds later — Peak deceleration, with the intense heating causing possible temporary dropouts in radio signals
11:51 a.m. PST (2:51 p.m. EST / 19:51 UTC) — Parachute deployment
15 seconds later — Separation from the heat shield
10 seconds later — Deployment of the lander’s three legs
11:52 a.m. PST (2:52 p.m. EST / 19:52 UTC) — Activation of the radar that will sense the distance to the ground
11:53 a.m. PST (2:53 p.m. EST / 19:53 UTC) — First acquisition of the radar signal
20 seconds later — Separation from the back shell and parachute
0.5 second later — The retrorockets, or descent engines, begin firing
2.5 seconds later — Start of the “gravity turn” to get the lander into the proper orientation for landing
22 seconds later — InSight begins slowing to a constant velocity (from 17 mph to a constant 5 mph, or from 27 kph to 8 kph) for its soft landing
11:54 a.m. PST (2:54 p.m. EST / 19:54 UTC) — Expected touchdown on the surface of Mars
12:01 p.m. PST (3:01 p.m. EST / 20:01 UTC) — “Beep” from InSight’s X-band radio directly back to Earth, indicating InSight is alive and functioning on the surface of Mars
No earlier than 12:04 p.m. PST (3:04 p.m. EST / 20:04 UTC), but possibly the next day — First image from InSight on the surface of Mars
No earlier than 5:35 p.m. PST (8:35 p.m. EST / 01:35 UTC) — Confirmation from InSight via NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter that InSight’s solar arrays have deployed.