NASA begins testing InSight Mars lander in anticipation of a 2016 launch
NASA has begun acomprehensive series of tests for its Mars Interior Exploration usingSeismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander.Once on the Red Planet, the lander will operate as a stationaryscience platform, attempting to answer a plethora of questionsregarding the interior structure of Mars, and hopefully granting ussome of the information needed to make a manned mission to the Red Planet in the 2030s a reality.
InSight is slated forlaunch in March 2016, and is expected to touch down on Marsin September of the same year. Once on the ground (hopefully) in onepiece, the lander will use an advanced scientific suite to shed lighton how rocky planets – such as our own – came to form and subsequentlyevolve.
"The assembly ofInSight went very well and now it's time to see how it performs,"states InSight program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, StuSpath. "The environmental testing regimen isdesigned to wring out any issues with the spacecraft so we canresolve them while it's here on Earth. This phase takes nearly aslong as assembly, but we want to make sure we deliver a vehicle toNASA that will perform as expected in extreme environments."
In order to make surethat InSight is prepared for the journey and subsequent operationaldemands, NASA will minutely test every aspect of the lander in orderto determine if it could survive the rigors of deep space and theharsh climate of Mars over the coming seven months.
To this end, the landerwill be subjected to extreme temperatures, zero air pressure, andvacuum conditions. During the environmental phase of the testing, thelander will be placed in its "cruise configuration." Inthis configuration, InSight is stowed in an aeroshell capsule, whichis designed to protect the delicate explorer over the course of itssix-month journey to Mars.
Furthermore, the landerwill be subjected to extreme stress in the form of a vibration test.This is a vital stepping stone if engineers are to ascertain whetherInSight's systems can survive the punishing conditions associatedwith launch and re-entry into the Martian atmosphere.
With any luck, NASAscientists will be successful in working out any kinks in the designof the spacecraft while it is still on Earth, allowing InSight toperform its mission flawlessly upon reaching the Red Planet.