Mars: Insight deploys solar arrays + Cliffs expose ice layers + Successful deep space CubeSat demo

NASA’s Insight lander, which arrived on Mars on Monday, is moving quickly towards operational status. The solar panels have been deployed and in the

… coming days, the mission team will unstow InSight’s robotic arm and use the attached camera to snap photos of the ground so that engineers can decide where to place the spacecraft’s scientific instruments. It will take two to three months before those instruments are fully deployed and sending back data.

In the meantime, InSight will use its weather sensors and magnetometer to take readings from its landing site at Elysium Planitia — its new home on Mars.

More at InSight Is Catching Rays on Mars – NASA JPL.

“The Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC), located on the robotic arm of NASA’s InSight lander, took this picture of the Martian surface on Nov. 26, 2018, the same day the spacecraft touched down on the Red Planet. The camera’s transparent dust cover is still on in this image, to prevent particulates kicked up during landing from settling on the camera’s lens. This image was relayed from InSight to Earth via NASA’s Odyssey spacecraft, currently orbiting Mars.” Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Full image and caption


Here’s a report from Bob Zimmerman about the landing: November 27, 2018 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast | Behind The Black


As an aside here, Bob also has an interesting posting about Mars water. While it has been known for many decades that Mars has substantial amounts of water in its surface, much has been learned in recent years about the extent and distribution of that water and much more remains to be discovered. An example of this is the recent finding in Mars orbiter images of layers of water ice exposed on a number of cliffs in the mid-latitudes of the planet:

From the JPL release:

The ice was likely deposited as snow long ago. The deposits are exposed in cross section as relatively pure water ice, capped by a layer one to two yards (or meters) thick of ice-cemented rock and dust. They hold clues about Mars’ climate history. They also may make frozen water more accessible than previously thought to future robotic or human exploration missions.

As Bob notes, such easily accessible water resources will be useful for more than scientific research:

There will come a time when Martian settlers will set up operations here, mining the water for their use. This could very well be extremely valuable real estate on Mars.

“A cross-section of underground ice is exposed at the steep slope that appears bright blue in this enhanced-color view from the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The scene is about 550 yards wide. The scarp drops about 140 yards from the level ground in the upper third of the image.” Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA/USGS › Full image and caption


The CubeSats launched with Insight proved their worth by relaying communications to earth during the lander’s descent and touch down. Furthermore, they have proved the worth of CubeSats for deep space exploration in general, opening up the potential for lower cost and more frequent exploration missions throughout the solar system:

From the NASA JPL release:

Neither of the MarCO CubeSats carry science instruments, but that didn’t stop the team from testing whether future CubeSats could perform useful science at Mars. As MarCO-A flew by, it conducted some impromptu radio science, transmitting signals through the edge of Mars’ atmosphere. Interference from the Martian atmosphere changes the signal when received on Earth, allowing scientists to determine how much atmosphere is present and, to some degree, what it’s made of.

“CubeSats have incredible potential to carry cameras and science instruments out to deep space,” said John Baker, JPL’s program manager for small spacecraft. “They’ll never replace the more capable spacecraft NASA is best known for developing. But they’re low-cost ride-alongs that can allow us to explore in new ways.”


Scott Manley gives an overview of the Insight mission:


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