NASA’s InSight spacecraft passed a production milestone this week. The lander fully extended its solar arrays that will provide power during its time on Mars.
In preparation for its May launch, and subsequent November landing, the team also conducted an illumination test, which verified the solar cells were able to collect power.
“This is the last time we will see the spacecraft in landed configuration before it arrives at the Red Planet,” says Scott Daniels, Lockheed Martin InSight Assembly, Test and Launch Operations (ATLO) Manager. “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.”
Due to dusty conditions, a thin atmosphere, and Mars’ distance from the sun, the fan-like array configuration is especially suited for the mission’s weak sunlight environment. The panels will be in service for one Martian year.
The InSight explorer aims to answer a fundamental question—how did terrestrial planets form? It will study the planet’s deep interior using three main geophysical instruments, measuring internal activity, temperature, and planetary reflexes.
“Think of InSight as Mars’ first health checkup in more than 4.5 billion years,” says Bruce Banerdt of JPL, the mission’s principal investigator. “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.”
As a finishing touch, InSight will be carrying a microchip inscribed with more than 1.6 million names. This list will join the 827,000 names submitted by the public that were collected back in 2015, which now sit on top of the lander. In total, a whopping 2,429,807 names will be accompanying InSight on its long journey.
You can watch the lander’s solar array deployment test in the video below.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense