Photographer Catches the Launch of NASA’s Mars InSight Lander

On May 5, 2018, NASA’s robotic Mars lander, InSight, which designed to study the interior of Mars, was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base space launch complex 3-East. This was the first American interplanetary mission to launch from California. Andy Fortson, adventure and lifestyle photographer based in Los Angeles, California has photographed the launch and the result is stunning.

Fortson published the amazing photo on his Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Fortson wrote: “This morning I got to watch my first rocket launch – the first rocket ever headed to another planet from the West Coast. I’ve been with #NASASocial for the last few days touring Vandenberg Air Force Base while they prepared to launch the Insight Lander to Mars. Not only did I get to stand in the launchpad just 100 yards from the rocket, we also toured the Missions Director’s Center, the Western Range Operations Control Center, and met NASA’s chief scientist and engineers. I can’t thank @NASA enough for inviting me to help tell this story.”

Mars InSight Lander

Manufactured by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, InSight (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is a robotic Mars lander designed to study the interior of Mars. The mission launched on May 5, 2018, at 11:05 UTC and is expected to land on the surface of Mars (landing site: Elysium Planitia, a broad plain that straddles the equator of Mars) on November 26, 2018, where it will deploy a seismometer and burrow a heat probe. It will also perform a radio science experiment to study the internal structure of Mars.

The planned duration of the mission is a little over 1 Mars year (~2 Earth years); 708 Sols (Mars days), or 728 Earth days.

It is the first outer space robotic explorer to study in-depth the “inner space” of Mars: its crust, mantle, and core. Studying Mars’ interior structure answers key questions about the early formation of rocky planets in our inner solar system – Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars – more than 4 billion years ago, as well as rocky exoplanets. InSight also measures tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on Mars today.

The lander uses cutting-edge instruments, to delve deep beneath the surface and seek the fingerprints of the processes that formed the terrestrial planets. It does so by measuring the planet’s “vital signs”: its “pulse” (seismology), “temperature” (heat flow), and “reflexes” (precision tracking).

InSight mission is part of NASA’s Discovery Program for highly focused science missions that ask critical questions in solar system science.


NASA Mars InSight Lander Instruments
An artist’s depiction of InSight lander on Mars’ surface. Image: NASA NASA’s InSight lander opens a window into the “inner space” of Mars. Its instruments peer deeper than ever into the Martian subsurface, seeking the signatures of the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner Solar System, more than four billion years ago. InSight’s findings are expected to shed light on the formation of Mars, Earth, and even rocky exoplanets.

InSight’s payload has a total mass of 50 kg, including science instruments and support systems.

The InSight lander carries two complementary engineering cameras that help with navigation and hazard avoidance. One of the cameras is mounted on the arm; the other on the front of the lander.

The lander uses the Instrument Deployment Arm (IDA) to place the instruments on the ground. The lander’s sensitive instruments are able to obtain their best measurements in direct contact with the Martian surface. Upon landing, Insight’s solar panels deploy and its cameras survey the landing site.

The arm is 7.8 feet (2.4 meters) long, with shoulder, elbow and wrist joints and four motors. The grapple is at the end of the arm. The arm-mounted camera is between the elbow and wrist.

The arm deploys the heat flow probe – a mole that burrows 16 feet (five meters) into the ground. That’s deeper than any instrument that has ever been to Mars. The arm also places the seismometer on the surface, from where it can sense Marsquakes in action.

The robotic arm includes a grapple for grasping each piece of hardware the arm will lift. The grapple’s five mechanical fingers can close around a handle that resembles a ball on top of a stem. Each of the three items the arm will lift has one of these handles. The three are the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe, and the seismometer’s Wind and Thermal Shield.

InSight’s science instruments are: a seismometer, a heat flow probe, and a radio science experiment.

InSight’s seismometer, SEIS, the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, is a round, dome-shaped instrument that sits on the Martian surface and takes the “pulse” or seismic vibrations of Mars. Its measurements provide a glimpse into the planet’s internal activity. The seismometer waits patiently to sense the pulse, or seismic waves, from marsquakes, and thumps of meteorite impacts. A suite of wind, pressure, temperature, and magnetic field sensors help fine-tune the seismometer’s measurements. This helps it sense surface vibrations generated by weather systems such as dust storms, or by turbulence in the atmosphere due to phenomena such as dust devils, which can also generate seismic waves. SEIS measurements tell scientists about the nature of the material that first formed the rocky planets of the Solar System. As it reveals what lies beneath, the seismometer may even be able to tell us if there’s liquid water, or plumes of active volcanoes underneath the Martian surface.

The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe, HP3 for short, burrows down to almost 16 feet (five meters) into Mars’ surface. That’s deeper than any previous arms, scoops, drills or probes before it. Like studying the heat leaving a car engine, it measures the heat coming from Mars’ interior to reveal how much heat is flowing out of the body of the planet, and what the source of the heat is. This helps scientists determine whether Mars formed from the same stuff as Earth and the Moon, and gives them a sneak peek into how the planet evolved.

InSight’s Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment, RISE, precisely tracks the location of the lander to determine just how much Mars’ North Pole wobbles as it orbits the sun. These observations will provide detailed information on the size of Mars’ iron-rich core. They will help determine whether the core is liquid, and which other elements, besides iron, may be present.

InSight Lander specifications

The lander builds on the proven design of NASA’s Mars Phoenix lander. InSight’s over 7-foot-long (2.4-meter-long) robotic arm lifts a seismometer and heat-flow probe from the deck and places them on the surface. The camera on the arm will provide color 3D views of the landing site, instrument placement, and activities. Sensors measure weather and magnetic field variations.

Lander: 360 kg (794 lb)
Aeroshell: 189 kg (417 lb)

About 6.1 m (20 ft) wide with solar panels deployed. The science deck is about 2.0 m (6.5 ft) deep and 1.4 m (4.5 ft) high. The length of the robotic arm is 2.4 m (7 ft 10 in)

Power is generated by two round solar panels, each 2.15 m (7.1 ft) in diameter and consisting of SolAero ZTJ triple-junction solar cells made of InGaP/InGaAs/Ge arranged on Orbital ATK UltraFlex arrays. After touchdown on the Martian surface, the arrays are deployed by opening up like a folding fan.


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