Space

Stuck Mars InSight lander to conduct short burst of hammering in search of answers

Stuck Mars InSight lander to c...
The first selfie on Mars of the InSight lander, which has run into a problem 
The first selfie on Mars of the InSight lander, which has run into a problem 
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Render of the InSight lander touching down on Mars
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Render of the InSight lander touching down on Mars
After deploying its HP3 instrument onto the surface of Mars midway through February, scientists prepared themselves for the hammering phase
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After deploying its HP3 instrument onto the surface of Mars midway through February, scientists prepared themselves for the hammering phase
The first image sent back to Earth from the Mars InSight lander
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The first image sent back to Earth from the Mars InSight lander
The first selfie on Mars of the InSight lander, which has run into a problem 
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The first selfie on Mars of the InSight lander, which has run into a problem 
Things have run pretty smoothly for NASA’s Mars Insight lander up until this point
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Things have run pretty smoothly for NASA’s Mars Insight lander up until this point
NASA's Mars InSight lander has hit a snag on the Red Planet
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NASA's Mars InSight lander has hit a snag on the Red Planet

Digging into the surface of another planet for the first time is going to bring some surprises, you'd just hope that those surprises don't include your digging being brought to a halt before things have even begun. This is the problem scientists working on the Mars InSight mission have been forced to contend with, though they are now moving ahead with new plans to shed light on the blockage.

The digging operations of the Mars InSight lander are hoped to greatly improve our understanding of the Red Planet. By burrowing into the planet's surface further than any scientific instrument before it, its drilling device will measure thermal conductivity and subsurface materials in the soil, adding to our understanding of how rocky planets like Mars were formed.

But soon after commencing its digging operations in late February, the lander's drilling device, known as "the mole" ground to a halt during the hammering phase, only making it around three quarters of the way out of its housing structure before stopping altogether. The team resumed hammering two days later, but without success.

NASA's Mars InSight lander has hit a snag on the Red Planet
NASA's Mars InSight lander has hit a snag on the Red Planet

The data indicated that the mole was healthy and functioning properly, though it was resting at a 15-degree tilt. The operation was then paused while the team investigated the issue, suspecting that some hard rock or gravel beneath the surface is what stopped the device in its tracks.

The mole forms part of a larger instrument called the Heat and Physical Properties Package (HP3), which was built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Engineers there and at NASA will work with replicas of the HP3 in the lab to better understand the problem, and are planning a short hammering test on Mars to try and uncover new clues.

This test will take place over 10 to 15 minutes later in the month, and InSight's seismometer will be used to "listen" in on the hammering to try and help determine the source of the blockage. A camera mounted on the lander's robotic arm, meanwhile, will snap images of the support structure to capture any motion that might be triggered throughout.

"With a special filter applied to the short period data directly onboard the SEIS instrument, we will get a much better time resolution of the signals and should be able to diagnose whether or not the mole is stuck or even slowly moving forward or is rebounding," writes DLR's Tilman Spohn, instrument lead. "Knowing this will help us greatly in designing our
strategy."

Source: NASA, DLR

6 comments
juanhollisDS4E
The InSight probe cannot drill/hammer through solid iron as what you call "mars" is NOT a planet BUT the core of a planet and made up one solid lump of iron about the same size as you home worlds core 4,000 miles round. The cores planet was destroyed (using you time scale) some trillion years ago and its core was pushed out 3 hundred million miles off its original orbit by a rogue Dwarf planet, its core you now call Ceres, is now found in the asteroid belt. Only a diamond tipped drill WILL be able to bore into iron (not rock)! Also here is some info; the inner core is rather like a star a ball of plasma, only the outer core rotates and rotates counter to the planets rotation!
highlandboy
#juanhollisDS4E Do you have any reference that expands on this theory?
paul314
Is there any way to pick the instrument up and move it somewhere else?
Expanded Viewpoint
From where do you get your data, Juan? How do you know that the material is solid iron? I've been a machinist for over 50 years now, and I've drilled PLENTY of holes in Iron (Fe) with just high speed steel drill bits and lathe bits. How do you know that the machine on Mars does not have either a diamond or Tungsten carbide drill bit already? Did you design, spec out or build the thing? Got any blue prints of that machine? Not knowing exactly what they would be drilling into, I scarcely think that they would have opted for anything less than the most robust drilling system and parts that they could get off the ground over here. Randy
jeffco67
Whoever thought this was gonna work obviously never beat a T-post into rocky ground before.
amazed W1
jeffco67, your reasoning is good. You can divide the Nasa and most other research based organisations guys into two groups, they would love this approach, one group lives by untested theories and intellectually derived conclusions and the other group just gets on and does it, like all engineers. The divide is almost as complete as that between software and hardware designers, with just a few notable exceptions who mercifully can link together the extremists in both groups. Of course you can guess which group gets paid more, gets the glory and does not get the blame.