NASA shortens Insight’s life in exchange for more seismic data on Mars

NASA shortens Insight's life in exchange for more seismic data on Mars

Last selfie of NASA’s InSight module – NASA/JPL-CALTECH


NASA’s Mars Insight mission team chose to run their seismometer longer than planned, but as a result, the lander will run out of power sooner.

As the available energy decreases day by day, mission control on Earth has revised the schedule to maximize the science they can perform. The lander was supposed to automatically turn off the seismometer, InSight’s last operational scientific instrument, at the end of June to conserve power, surviving on the power its dust-laden solar panels can generate until around December.

Instead, the team now plans to program the lander so that the seismometer may work longer, maybe until late August or early September. This will discharge the lander batteries sooner and also cause the spacecraft to power out at that time, but it could allow the seismometer to detect additional “earthquakes”.

“InSight is not done teaching us Mars yet,” he said. it’s a statement Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division in Washington. “We’re going to get as much scientific information as possible before the lander completes its operations.”

InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is on an extended mission after achieving its science goals. The lander has detected more than 1,300 earthquakes since landing on Mars in 2018., providing information that has allowed scientists to measure the depth and composition of Mars’ crust, mantle, and core. Along with its other instruments, InSight recorded invaluable weather data, probed the ground beneath the lander, and studied remnants of Mars’ ancient magnetic field.


All instruments except the seismometer have already been turned off. Like other Mars spacecraft, InSight has a fail-safe system that automatically engages “safe mode” in threatening situations and shuts down all but the most essential functions, allowing engineers to assess the situation. Low power and temperatures outside the predetermined limits can trigger safe mode.

To allow the seismometer to continue to operate for as long as possible, the mission team disables InSight’s failover system. While this allows the instrument to operate longer, it leaves the lander unprotected against sudden and unexpected events that ground controllers would not have time to respond to.

“The goal is to take the science to the point where InSight can’t work at all, instead of saving energy and operating the lander without any scientific benefit”, said Chuck Scott, InSight project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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