Further exploration of the red planet continues as NASA’s Mars Lander, the space agency’s new robot, is passing its last tests ahead of its planned launch in May. On Tuesday, the lander participated in one of the most interesting tests to watch. It unfurled its wing-like solar panels which will be put inside the rocket at launch. After the successful test, the solar panels of the lander will be folded back where they’ll remain stored until InSight lands on Mars.
Thanks to the solar panels, NASA’s Mars lander will be fueled along with its equipment on the red planet. The panels will have to be capable of making due with less than half the sunlight that the panels would receive on Earth. The light on Mars is often bounced around thanks to the atmosphere of the planet. Furthermore, the sunlight is blocked as a result of persistent dust storms which can sometimes last for weeks.
The panels of the lander are equipped with various scientific tools, and not just cameras. There will be a probe which measures the temperature of the red planet’s interior. Additionally, the panels house a seismometer which can track the “marsquakes” which can reveal the structure of the planet.
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With the help of the mentioned instruments, the Mars InSight will be capable of conducting various tests which are designed to help scientists comprehend what’s happening within the red planet. Other missions on Mars, for example the Curiosity Rover, have only started those missions without in-depth explorations. With the data the NASA’s Mars Lander will collect, scientists will be capable of determining how active it is today and under what conditions it has formed.
“Think of InSight as Mars’ first health checkup in more than 4.5 billion years,” Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s principal investigator, said in a press release. “We’ll study its pulse by ‘listening’ for marsquakes with a seismometer. We’ll take its temperature with a heat probe. And we’ll check its reflexes with a radio experiment.”
The experiments will last at least two years, which is equal to one Martian year. The lander was initially planned to launch in 2016. However, the launch was delayed after engineers found a failure in the seismometer.
The launch window will open on May 5, which means the Mars Insight has only 100 days more to prepare. Before it launches, it has to get to California, which is the home of the air force base it will launch from. It will then take the robot six months before it will get to the red planet, and then unfurl it’s solar panels that will help it get to work.
“This is the last time we will see the spacecraft in landed configuration before it arrives at the Red Planet,” Scott Daniels, Lockheed Martin InSight Assembly, Test and Launch Operations (ATLO) Manager said. “There are still many steps we have to take before launch, but this is a critical milestone before shipping to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.”
Take a look at the Mars InSight here: