AFTER A SIX-MONTH journey across countless millions of miles of deep space, NASA’s InSight spacecraft–a mission nearly ten decades and close to $1 billion in the manufacturing –landed successfully on the surface of Mars on Monday, touching down on the planet’s surface just a few minutes until 12:00 pm PT. Instantly, the engineers mission control burst into applause.
News of the successful touchdown was delivered to Earth through two briefcase-sized communication satellites named Mars Cube One-A and Mars Cube One-B, which accompanied InSight on its journey to Mars and monitored that the spacecraft from high over the planet. Both”CubeSats” are the first of their kind to earn the trip to deep space. On previous missions to Mars, updates on a mission’s standing have been relayed to Earth by spacecraft stationed in Martian orbit, like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. InSight, nevertheless, did not possess an orbiter in position to forward advice on its own entrance into Mars’s atmosphere, descent to the surface, and ultimate landing. Rather, InSight brought its own, mission-specific communications relay, in the kind of MarCO-A and B. The tiny satellites’ performance now hints at how spacecraft moving forward could phone home in close real time from faraway planets, even in the absence of a permanent orbital outpost such as MRO.
As stated by the MarCO telemetry, InSight deployed its parachute, triggered its radar, detached from its backshell, activated its 12 descent engines and landed on the planet — all, it appears, based on strategy. “Flawless… flawless,” said Rob Manning, chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, over the cheers of his coworkers. “This is what we actually hoped and pictured in our mind’s eye. He added that InSight’s engineers will spend the next hours and days reviewing the landing data, to see just how well it went. However, as of now, he stated, InSight’s landing was as close to ideal as his group might have expected.
In minutes, the CubeSats had relayed InSight’s first photograph of its environment on Mars.
But InSight’s assignment planners were expecting dust. The lander must await that dust to settle–literally–before unfurling its solar arrays, which it can use to power its mission on Mars.
MRO and the MarCO satellites will be out of range by the time those solar arrays are fully deployed, so we are going to have to wait another four or five hours for updates on their status. For now, though, all seems to be well with InSight. “The lander is not unhappy, it’s not complaining, it’s in a standard mode, so it’s likely to chug along for the remainder of the day and complete its activities,” Manning explained.