Mars landing! Interplanetary cubesats to broadcast touchdown

James Marshall
December 3, 2018

The nail-biting entry, descent and landing phase began at 11.47am (2.47am Tuesday, Thailand time; 1940 GMT) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, home to mission control for Mars InSight.

NASA's first robotic lander created to study the deep interior of a distant world hurtled closer to Mars on course for a planned touchdown on Monday after a six-month voyage through space. It launched May 5.

InSight's landing plan combines technology and techniques from past missions, aiming to successfully transport the 1,340-pound (608 kilograms) probe the 80 miles (128 km) from the top of Mars' atmosphere to the surface.

In recent days, NASA has been commanding the spacecraft to make minor course corrections to ensure InSight enters the Martian atmosphere at the proper angle to within about a quarter of a degree. InSight needs to navigate a potentially perilous journey through the Martian atmosphere to reach the surface.

The stationary 360-kilogram lander will use its 1.8-metre robotic arm to place a mechanical mole and seismometer on the ground when it arrives on Mars.

One of the watch parties is being held at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh. Tricky from the lander's deck. That's longer than the seven-minute landing sequence.

InSight, a $1 billion global venture, reached the surface after going from 12,300 miles per hour (19,800 kph) to zero in six minutes flat, using a parachute and braking engines.

"We freefall for just a little bit, which is an absolutely terrifying thought for me", said Tom Hoffman, project manager of InSight.

Unlike NASA's rovers, InSight is a lander created to study an entire planet from just one spot.

Earth's overall success rate at Mars is 40 percent. Its 124km descent to the surface will be slowed by atmospheric friction, a giant parachute and retro rockets.

To mark the occasion, NASA will be livestreaming the event on its dedicated TV channel, through its website and on its social media platforms.

Ровер In Sight установил новый рекорд в космической энергетике
The Rover Insight on the first day of work on the red planet set a record

But the engineers prepared the spacecraft to land during a dust storm if need be.

The term refers to the amount of time the lander will take to go from the edge of Mars' atmosphere to the planet floor.

PALCA: The heat shield does its thing for about 3.5 minutes. Radio signals may be briefly lost. Ten seconds on, the lander's three legs deploy to get ready for touchdown. Then, it will touch down at 2:54 p.m.

InSight will hit the Martian atmosphere a little before 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT) while traveling about 12,300 miles per hour (19,800 km/h).

InSight has been traveling through deep space for more than six months.

"Once we get to the surface, InSight is a slow-motion mission", InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt said during Sunday's news conference.

The NASA Insight Mission will take place on Monday, November 26. At 3 P.M. EST the spacecraft should touch down on Mars.

InSight was shooting for Elysium Planitia, a plain near the Martian equator that the InSight team hopes is as flat as a parking lot in Kansas. Because it won't be roving over the surface, the landing site was an important determination. But, before it can carry out its mission, it has to land safely. Unlike InSight, the MarCO spacecraft keep on going past Mars into space.

InSight also has a drill capable of burrowing 16 feet - deeper than any Mars instrument.

France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) made the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, the key element for sensing quakes.

No landing on Mars is easy.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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