Australian scientists to help InSight survey Martian geology

By on 28 November, 2018

The InSight spacecraft approaches Mars in this artist’s concept. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

After a seven-month journey and dramatic incursion into Mars’ atmosphere, NASA’s InSight lander has landed safely and begun its operations.

Plummeting through the atmosphere at over 19,000 kilometres per hour, the latest mission to Mars landed safely on Monday morning, its landing relayed back to Earth in near-real time by two cubesats that raced there to cover the event.

Associate Professor Alan Duffy, research fellow at the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University of Technology, said that the successful landing was a colossal achievement.

“Landing on the Red Planet is hard. Almost as many missions to Mars have failed as have succeeded. A successful landing on Mars after the 7 minutes of terror that includes supersonic airbrakes, parachutes and retro-thrusters firing, will be the first NASA mission to the surface in nearly a decade and is a big deal,”  he said.

NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission’s primary objective will be to drill down below the Martian surface, taking temperature and seismology measurements to shed new light on activity of the red planet’s core, mantle and crust with three unique instruments.

Katarina Miljkovic is an ARC DECRA Fellow at Curtin University and is an Australian researcher signed on as collaborator on InSight, along with Phil Bland and supporting PhD students at Curtin.

Miljkovic will be building numerical simulations of impact events for meteorite strikes and atmospheric fireballs.

NASA’s InSight Mars lander acquired this image with its robotic, arm-mounted Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC), on November 26, 2018. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“InSight is different to previous Mars missions. It is not a rover or an orbiter. It is a geophysical station to be placed on the surface with passive instruments that will sense the interior structure,” she said.

“The aim is to understand how Mars has formed, how it differentiated and how much is it different to our planet. Ultimately, this will contribute to the knowledge of how all rocky planets formed.”

InSight’s mission voyage to Mars and ongoing communications will also be supported by the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC), which is managed by the CSIRO on behalf of NASA.

InSight has relayed its first transmissions and images back to Earth and has begun the initial operations of its two-year mission.

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