West coast's Mars-bound rocket launch may be blanketed in fog

05 May, 2018, 01:32 | Author: Becky Perry
  • Illustration of the Mars In Sight Lander

NASA's next Mars explorer is going to have company all the way to the red planet: a couple of puny yet groundbreaking sidekicks. The Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem (APSS) include sensors measuring the local magnetic field, wind and atmospheric temperature and pressure.

Scientists believe that Mars's seismic activity has been "relatively static" over the past three billion years, Reuters reports, making it a "geologic time machine" that could hold the answers to the Earth's formation.

Getting a Mars mission flying requires a great many milestones.

"It's really a science of understanding the early solar system ... how planets formed", Bruce Banerdt, InSight's principal investigator from JPL, said on Thursday during a news briefing. Mars doesn't have plate tectonics.

"It will use the seismic waves generated by marsquakes to develop a map of the planet's deep interior".

Previous Mars missions have focused on surface or close-to-the-surface rocks and mineral. Phoenix, for instance, dug just several inches down for samples.

Scientists expect to detect anywhere between a dozen and a hundred of these tremors over the course of two years; some of which could reach up to 6.0 on the Richter scale.

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This weekend, NASA is launching a machine created to study Mars at a much more fundamental level, helping to fill large gaps in scientists' understanding of the planet's geologic structure, composition and seismic activity. The three huge dish antennae of NASA's Deep Space Network in California, Australia and Spain will precisely track InSight's position via the X-band radio signals.

How will it communicate with Earth?

Similar in size to a briefcase or large cereal box, the satellites with pop out from the rocket's upper stage following liftoff and hightail it to Mars, right behind InSight. Also, the Lander also carries solar panels capable of generating six hundred to seven hundred watts of the power.

After entering Mars' atmosphere, the lander will deploy a parachute, then fire retrograde rockets to slow it as it approaches the ground.

It will land in a region of Mars known as Elysium Planitia, which is just north of where the Curiosity rover explores. Comparing weather data from the two missions could be interesting.

InSight, which is the first planetary mission that will take off from the West Coast, will be targeted to launch at 7.05 a.m. EDT (4.05 a.m. PDT) on May 5 from the Space Launch Complex-3 situated at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, US aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, NASA said in a statement. According to Kristina Williams, the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg, there is an 80 percent chance that people won't be able to see the InSight Mars lander take off from its Vandenberg launch pad.

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