Cassandra Vella / Correspondent
NASA’s InSight Mars lander spacecraft has started its final assembly, test and launch operations (ATLO) under Lockheed Martin. InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.
The InSight Mission will record the very first measurements of what lies under Mars’ surface. This mission will allow scientists to observe possible evidence of Mars’ evolution and that of other terrestrial planets. The InSight Mission is said to launch in March 2016.
The ATLO stage is where the spacecraft begins its official assembly. Then, the spacecraft is set to move through environmental testing and finally its launch. Technicians will install subsystems in the spacecraft over the next six months. Some of these subsystems include avionics, power, telecomm, mechanisms, and thermal systems, along with guidance, navigation and control. Lockheed Martin will also be responsible for integrating science instruments into the spacecraft. The spacecraft’s protective aero shell capsule and cruise stage components are also going through the ATLO stage as well. These components provide communications, power and propellant during its journey to Mars. Once the spacecraft is done assembling it will endure environmental testing throughout summer 2015.
The spacecraft is said to have a lot of similarities to the Phoenix and Viking landers with adjustments for science studies and Mars’ climate. The physical appearance of InSight is said to be very much like the Phoenix lander with electrical components that are similar to what is involved with MAVEN.
This NASA Discovery-class mission is a terrestrial planet explorer that will be put to work in finding out what processes shaped Mars and the other rock-based planets of the inner solar system.
The two-year InSight mission is being led by Bruce Banerdt of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The rest of the crew includes both United States and international co-investigators from universities, industry and government agencies. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the French space agency (CNES) are also contributing instruments to the mission. JPL performs project management for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. While providing an onboard geodetic instrument to determine the planet’s rotation axis, a robotic arm and two cameras used to deploy and monitor instruments on the Martian surface, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama manages the Discovery Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.