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Finally! NASA InSight’s “Pier” is out of sight, below the surface of Mars



NASA InSight robot arm

NASA’s InSight withdrew its robotic arm on October 3, 2020, revealing where the tip-like “mole” is trying to dig itself into Mars. The copper-colored band attached to the mole has sensors to measure the planet’s heat flow. In the coming months, the arm will scrape down and stomp down the ground on top of the mole to help dig. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Now that the heat probe is just below the surface of Mars, InSight̵

7;s arm will scoop some extra soil upstairs to help it dig so it can take Marchtemperature.

NASAInSight Lander is still working to get its “mole” – a 16-inch (40 centimeters long) pile driver and heating probe – deep below the surface of Mars. A camera on InSight’s arm recently took pictures of the now partially filled “mole hole” showing only the device’s scientific bandage protruding from the ground.

Sensors embedded in the anchorage are designed to measure the heat flowing from the planet when the mole has dug at least 3 feet deep. The mission team has worked to help the mole’s grave to at least that depth so it can take Mars’ temperature.

The mole was designed so that loose soil would flow around it, providing friction against its outer hull so that it can dig deeper; without this friction the mole just jumps into place when it hammers into the ground. But the ground where InSight landed is different from what previous missions have encountered: During hammering, the ground sticks together, forming a small pit around the unit instead of collapsing around it, providing the necessary friction.

Replica Insight Arm Scraping Soil

This footage from August 19, 2019 shows a replica of InSight scraping soil with a scoop on the end of its robotic arm in a test lab at JPL. A replica of the “mole” – the lander’s self-hammering heat probe – comes in to see when the shovel moves to the left. On Mars, InSight will scrape and stomp down the ground on top of the mole to help it dig. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

After the mole unexpectedly backed out of the pit while hammering last year, the team placed the small scoop at the end of the lander’s robot arm on top of it to keep it in the ground. Now that the mole is fully embedded in the soil, they will use the shovel to scrape additional soil on top of it and stomp down this soil to help provide more friction. Because it will take months to pack enough soil down, the mole is not expected to resume hammering until early 2021.

“I’m very happy that we were able to recover from the unexpected ‘pop-out’ event we experienced and get the mole deeper than it has ever been,” said Troy Hudson, a scientist and engineer at NASA. “But we are not quite done. We want to make sure there is enough soil on top of the mole so that it can dig alone without the help of the arm.”

The mole is formally called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties or HP package3, and was built and supplied to NASA by the German Space Agency (DLR). JPL in Southern California leads the InSight mission. Read more about the mole’s latest advances on this DLR blog.

More about the mission

JPL administers InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, administered by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including France’s Center National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aviation Center (DLR), support the InSight mission. CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to NASA with the lead researcher at the IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Significant contributions to SEIS came from IPGP; Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties (HP) package3) instrument with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied temperature and wind sensors.




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