23 November 18
A mission to Mars, supported by the UK Space Agency, with scientific instruments developed at the University of Oxford, is preparing to land on Monday 26 November – ETA 1945.
Oxford’s Department of Physics will be livestreaming the event on Monday evening.
The NASA InSight mission will study the inside of Mars to learn how planets, moons and meteorites with rocky surfaces, including the Earth and its Moon, formed. The lander’s instruments include a seismometer to detect ‘Marsquakes’ and a probe to monitor the flow of heat beneath the surface of the planet.
Scientists from Oxford’s Department of Physics have been key to supporting one of the main instruments on board: the short period Seismometer (SEIS-SP). This will be placed on the surface of Mars to detect seismic waves from Marsquakes and meteorite impacts.
Dr Neil Bowles, from the University of Oxford’s Department of Physics, said: ‘The InSight SEIS-SP seismometer is one of the most sensitive and challenging instruments we have worked on for spaceflight in Oxford. After launch in May, and successful instrument checks during the cruise to Mars the team are now anxiously awaiting the landing. We’ve shown that a traditionally delicate scientific instrument is capable of being launched on a rocket, the next challenge is to get it onto the surface of the planet.
‘With our partners at Imperial College London, STFC RAL Space and the UKSA, getting the SEIS-SP seismometer assembled and qualified for flight has been a significant effort and now we are in the anxious time waiting landing on the surface of Mars. After nearly a decade of preparation, building and testing we are excited that the science can then start.’
The lander will take several weeks to deploy two of its three instruments, the seismometer and probe on to the Martian surface. The UK will have a team of instrument scientists from Imperial and Oxford at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California to help with this process, including selecting just the right spot for the robot arm to deposit the seismometer.
The mission, which took off from California in May this year, will conduct six science investigations on and below the surface of Mars to uncover the evolutionary history that shaped all of the rocky planets in the inner solar system.
The UK instrument will work together with seismometers from France, as well as major contributions from Switzerland, Germany and the US. Other instruments on board include RISE, a precision radio tracking of the lander that can determine the direction and motion of the rotation of Mars and the HP3 (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe) which will study heat flow by embedding a temperature sensor under the surface of Mars.
The InSight Mission is led by Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the SEIS instrument is led by Philippe Lognonné at the Institut de Physique du Globe (IPGP) Paris, France
InSight hopes to give answers to exciting scientific questions:
Is Mars seismically active? InSight will be the first mission to place a seismometer directly on the surface Mars. The level of seismicity will be important for understanding Mars’ current state, i.e. how dead is it really?
Measuring Marsquakes will give information on Mars’ internal structure and hopefully reveal more about how the planet formed. Why is Mars smaller and with a lower density than Earth and Venus? It suggests that Mars’ formation and evolution was somehow different to Earth’s or some process in the early Solar System prevented Mars from growing bigger. Answering these questions and comparing Mars, Earth and Venus allows scientists to test formation theories of planets and solar systems from our own to those around other stars.
InSight will answer the engineering challenge of getting super-sensitive instrumentation on to the surface of another planet.
For more information and to arrange access and interviews please contact Ruth Abrahams in the University of Oxford press office at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +44 (0)1865 280730.
InSIght Landing event at Oxford Physics, 26th November from 1830, Martin Wood lecture theatre
1. 1830 - Arrive
2. 1840 - Introductions.
3. 1845 - Sue Horne, head of exploration UKSA
4. 1900 - Neil, overview of InSight and some background.
5. 1920 - Anna, (Bristol) or Neil, some more on the science of InSight, interior of Mars
6. 1935 - Neil, what happens during EDL i.e. what is about to happen at Mars right now.
7. 1945 - Watch NASA TV for Landing
8. 2000 - Drinks reception, maybe connect to UK team at JPL mission operations.
9. 2020 - Possible first surface image
10 2030 - likely end, could be closer 2100 depending on how stuff goes.
JPL press pack with great images:
Time line of landing events:
InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.
NASA footage available (Credit: NASA):