Images from InSight show the lander sitting in a flat sandy crater. JPL-Caltech / NASA By Paul Voosen Nov. 28,…
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA- In a laboratory on earth, march formation had already begun.
On November 27th, after the successful crash of NASA’s InSight landlord on Mars after the crew had left, technicians at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) were already at work and simulated Mars for a full-size model of the landlord, as they call ForeSight. Researchers still do not know exactly where Mars InSight is. But the first pictures sent back to earth have established their immediate environment – and the landlord is slightly tilted, by 4 °. So yesterday, NASA engineers played in the sand and moved false Mars Rocks to position. They held ForeSight on their shoulders and shot small blocks under a leg of the leg to make it right.
Look at a gallery of ForeSight where Matt Golombek, the JPL geologist, will lead the location of two of InSights instruments, a heat probe and seismometer. From the few pictures returned to date, he says that much has been learned about his place, resembling martian trains previously investigated by the opponent.
For example, InSight landed in what is called a hollow, a crater that has been filled with ground and even plan. In pictures taken from the elbow on the lander’s stowed robot arm, the edge of the crater is visible. When the team determines the diameter of the crater – it may be meters, maybe tens of meters – scientists can draw their depths and the amount of sand blown into it. Anyway, it is good for the heat probe instrument, called HP3, which should penetrate the material with ease. “It’s about as good news for HP3 as you might hope,” he says.
Landing in the hollow was happy for another reason. InSight did not really hit the bull’s eye in its target landing zone, and ended up in terrain, which is totally rockier than desired. But the hollow is mostly missing stones. One, about 20 centimeters above, sits close to the farmer’s feet, while three less are further away, but no one poses a threat to placing the instruments. The hollow is flat and lacks dunes, and small stones indicate a surface that is dense enough to support the weight of the instrument. “We will not have any problems at all,” says Golombek.
The biggest mystery of the landslide right now is exactly where it is. A Mars orbiter put to the picture in the middle of the landing zone on Thursday will miss the lander, as it lacked center something. An InSight instrument called the inertial meter has placed the location within a 5-kilometer circle. InSights entry, descent and landing team will refine that estimate to a kilometer or less. “But they have not done it anyway because they were so happy they landed for sure we do not know what they did last night,” Golombek said with a smile. “And they have not been shown today.”
There is another technique that can help: InSights third primary experiment, called RISE and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE). The main purpose of RISE’s two sensitive listening antennas is to detect wobbles in the martian kernel. But the InSight team can also use them to map the latitude and longitude of the lander by using the radio signals for appropriate orbits. It has given geologists a place within about 100 meters or so.
Now it’s a friendly competition. Golombek and his comrades hope to beat the satellites to fix InSights location. They should have until December 6, when an orbiter will probably catch it. Right now they stretch out the sharp pictures, trying to compare their hollow to existing high resolution maps. Their jobs will be a lot easier next week, when the camera on the elbow of the robot arm will be expanded to photograph the terrain of the landlord in detail. For now the arm is laid up – Tuesday was about simple steps, like shooting off the small charges that hold the arm against the tires. But later in the week, after the camera capsules are released and the arm is released, the detailed reconnaissance begins.