Mars probe faces daunting challenge to land safely

Pablo Tucker
November 28, 2018

If you aren't nervous for NASA's InSight Mars probe, you probably should be.

InSight should provide our best look yet at Mars' deep interior, using a mechanical mole to tunnel 5 metres deep to measure internal heat, and a seismometer to register quakes, meteorite strikes and anything else that might start the red planet shaking.

NASA's Mars-bound InSight spacecraft is on track for a soft touchdown on the surface of the Red Planet on November 26, the USA space agency said.

The InSight probe is scheduled to land on Martian soil at around 8pm GMT on Monday, scientists said.

NASA scientists estimate the spacecraft will enter Mars' atmosphere at just over 19,300km per hour.

If InSight passes through this keyhole precisely then it ought to land in the middle of the Elysium Planitia, though it will still need a heat-resistant capsule, a parachute and rockets to cut its velocity from 12,000mph to 5mph and ensure it arrives softly and safely after a seven-minute descent.

Only 40 percent of missions to Mars have successfully landed on the planet.

The robot's job is to study what's under the surface of the Red Planet, but according to CBS News, it must first survive a hard landing.

"We can't joystick the landing, so we have to rely on the commands we pre-program into the spacecraft".

The CubeSat mission known as Mars Cube One or MarCO, which traveled to Mars alongside InSight, will make a flyby around the red planet and relay data on the landing in near real-time to mission control on Earth.

The two MarCO spacecraft (A and B) are making good progress towards their rendezvous point, and their radios have already passed their first deep-space tests.

This would mean engineers at JPL and another team at Lockheed Martin Space would be able to tell what the lander did during EDL approximately eight minutes after InSight completes its activities, it said.

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