After three weeks of checking the scene on the Red Planet, NASA's Insight Lander has developed the first scientific instrument on Mars.
The robotic arm of the probe, InSight, known as the seismic test of the internal structure or SEIS, pulled out of the surface of the spacecraft on Wednesday and slowly placed it carefully on a flat spot directly in front of the vehicle. The arm extended to its maximum reach, 5.367 feet from the deck.
The publication of SEIS is a milestone in the two-year mission of InSight to monitor seismic activity and internal heat flow on the Red Planet. (The name of the mission is abbreviated refers to "internal exploration using seismic investigations, geodesy and thermal transport.")
"The deployment of the seismometer is just as important as the fall of InSight on Mars," said Bruce Bannert, principal investigator at InSight, which works for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "The seismometer is the highest priority tool in InSight: we need it to complete about three-quarters of our scientific goals."
Seismic seismic sensors are sensitive enough to detect ground movements that are less than the radius of a hydrogen atom. For this reason, the inside of the machine must be protected in a vacuum.
The experiment is currently being conducted on the ground tilted by 2 or 3 degrees. InSight's next function is to locate the seismograph in preparation for the first scientific data collection.
"We look forward to popping some champagne when we start getting data from InSight's metering device on the ground," he added. "I have a bottle ready for this occasion."
What a wonder – calmer after a long day, but I did it: I put a seismic device on Mars! Using SEIS, I'll be able to listen to the boats to help detect the heartbeat # Mars Planet. https://t.co/GYNO4txPPi pic.twitter.com/18eQHXOfiO
– NASA InSight (NASAInSight) 20 December 2018
It will take several more weeks to adjust the seismic scale and the rope that connects it to the earth's landing, in order to minimize electronic noise. Early next month, engineers plan to put a shield above the seismic scale to stabilize the thermal environment and protect it from Mars winds.
If everything goes according to plan, the InSight robotic arm will pick up another important scientific tool, the thermal flow meter or physical properties built in Germany or HP3, and put it on the surface in late January. HP3 is designed to drill down the surface like a mole and takes temperature readings at different levels, down to a depth of 15 feet.
InSight has already begun another experiment using radio between Earth and Mars to make accurate measurements of the rotation of the Red Planet. Data from the rotation and internal structure experiment, RISE, can provide evidence of the size and composition of the Mars heart.
It is too early to draw any conclusions about the internal structure of Mars, but the team is pleased with how things are going so far.
"The schedule of activities on Mars has improved better than we had hoped," said Tom Hoffman, project manager at Insight. "Getting a seismograph safely on Earth is a wonderful gift for Christmas."