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NASA’s Insight To Attempt Landing On The Red Planet

The lander is expected to touch down on Mars about 3 p.m. EST (2000 UTC) on Monday.

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NASA, Insight, Martian Wind
NASA’s InSight spacecraft, destined for the Elysium Planitia region in Mars’ northern hemisphere, undergoes launch preparations at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. VOA
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After traveling hundreds of millions of miles through space, NASA’s latest Mars probe will arrive Monday at the Red Planet.

Scientists have carefully chosen where they want the probe, called InSight, to land, selecting a large volcanic plain named Elysium Planitia. They say the site has few rocks and less chance of wind gusts that could potentially knock over the lander.

The spacecraft will take a crucial six minutes to enter Mars’ atmosphere, descend and land. During that time, InSight will decelerate from an initial speed of 19,300 kmh (12,000 mph) down to just 8 kmh (5 mph) when it touches down. To aid the landing, scientists have equipped InSight with a parachute, descent thrusters and shock-absorbing legs.

If all goes well, InSight will make the eighth successful landing on Mars.

Mars, Insight
This is an illustration showing a simulated view of NASA’s InSight lander about to land on the surface of Mars. This view shows the underside of the spacecraft. VOA

“My heart is beating inside of my chest like a drum,” NASA project manager Tom Hoffman said Wednesday during a news conference about the planned landing.

Scientists say they are trying to determine whether the craft needs a small nudge to put it in the proper place for landing. Since InSight launched May 5, scientists have made four small tweaks to its path to ensure it arrives on target. Engineers were able to skip an additional nudge because the other maneuvers went so smoothly, and they say they might also be able to skip the final adjustment scheduled for Sunday.

By the time it lands, InSight will have traveled 484 million kilometers (300.7 million miles). However, once the lander is on the Martian surface, it cannot move, as it is not a rover. Scientists say it is critical that InSight land in the correct location, because wherever it lands is where it will stay.

NASA says the landing site has been particularly quiet in recent weeks, with few storms.

“We’re expecting a very plain day on Mars for the landing, and we’re very happy about that,” said Rob Grover who is overseeing the landing phase.

NASA Insight
A visitor records herself at a NASA display at the Lompoc Airport before the launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying NASA’s InSight Mars lander, which lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, VOA

Once landed, Insight has a unique mission to explore Mars’ interior. While other missions have sought to better understand the planet’s surface and atmosphere, this is the first to focus exclusively on what is under Mars’ surface.

The $850 million InSight mission is planned to last about two years and will try to gather an array of information, including Mars’ below-ground temperature and seismic activity, as well as to carry out an underground mapping project.

Insight is armed with a crane, heat probe and seismometer and is able to hammer 5 meters (16.4 feet) below the surface.

Scientists are hoping the mission will help answer questions about the composition and evolution of the planet and whether Mars was formed from the same mixture of materials as Earth.

NASA, Insight
InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. (IANS)

Once InSight touches down, it will wait for 16 minutes to allow the dust that it kicked up to settle down again. Then it will deploy solar arrays, a critical step that will allow the lander to power itself for the next two years. InSight also has a battery system, but that will only last one day.

Also Read: NASA is Concerned Over The Strains of Toilet Microbes on ISS

The lander is expected to touch down on Mars about 3 p.m. EST (2000 UTC) on Monday. Scientists hope to know quickly whether the landing was successful but say if communication with the spacecraft is delayed, they might not know InSight’s status for several hours or even days.

NASA’s website will be broadcasting news of InSight’s approach and landing all day Monday. (VOA)

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Rocket Lab is Set To Launch 10 NASA CubeSats

They will be placed in RailPODs aboard the Electron rocket that will ferry them to space

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Kepler, NASA, tissue
Rocket Lab to launch 10 NASA CubeSats on Sunday. Pixabay

In its first mission for NASA, the American aerospace manufacturer Rocket Lab is set to launch 10 small research satellites, or CubeSats, from New Zealand, the US space agency said.

Owing to bad weather, Rocket Lab was forced to postpone the earlier decided launch on December 12.

Rocket Lab is now targeting the ELaNa-19 launch on December 15 with a launch window opening at 11 p.m. EST from the company’s launch complex on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, NASA said in a statement on Friday.

The CubeSats were built by three NASA centres, seven universities, and a middle school under the NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites, or (ELaNa-19) mission.

ElaNa-19 is NASA’s first to be completely dedicated to launching CubeSats under the agency’s Venture Class Launch Services program for small-satellite launches.

More than 250 students have been involved in the design, development and construction of the CubeSats scheduled to be flown as payloads on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.

NASA, Hubble, Keplar, asteroids
Owing to bad weather, Rocket Lab was forced to postpone the earlier decided launch on December 12. Flickr

“The major difference between today’s launch and previous #ELaNa missions is that for the first time, NASA will have a launch completely dedicated to CubeSats rather than having the small satellites ride along with a much larger spacecraft that is the primary mission,” NASA Launch Services Program officials wrote on Twitter on December 12.

The 10 CubeSats are named as CubeSail, CeREs, NMTSat, CHOMPTT, ALBus, STF-1, ISX, RSat, Shields-1 and DaVinci, NASA said.

These are built to standard dimensions of one unit (1U), and can be 1U, 2U, 3U or 6U in size. They generally weigh less than 1.33 kg per U — 6U may be up to 12 kg.

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They will be placed in RailPODs aboard the Electron rocket that will ferry them to space.

After the main payload deploys, the CubeSats will separate from their RailPODs. After 45 minutes in orbit, the CubeSat transmitters will turn on and university ground stations will listen for their beacons, determine their small satellites’ functionality and announce operational status.

CubeSat mission durations and orbital life vary but are anticipated to last at least three years. Upon mission completion, the CubeSats fall to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere, NASA noted. (IANS)