NASA Mars InSight lander launch: The spacecraft starts its 6-month journey
NASA’s ambitious InSight interplanetary spacecraft recorded a perfect, on-time lift-off from California’s Vanderberg Air Force station on Saturday. The Atlas V rocket, which carried InSight, lit up the skies on lift-off at 4.35 am IST, and put the lander into a temporary parking orbit around Earth. An hour later, the 360-kg spacecraft was put on a direct path towards Mars: It is expected to land on the Red Planet’s surface on November 26, after covering about 300 million miles. InSight will study the surface of the Red Planet, and even record Marsquakes.
Here are the highlights from NASA Mars InSight lander launch in California.
6.18 pm: InSight is on its own now, marking the beginning of a 6-month journey to Mars. The two briefcase-sized Cubesats too have been deployed.
6.11 pm: Confirmation that InSight spacecraft has separated from Centaur. InSight is on its way to Mars. Both the twin Mars Cube One (MarCo A and MarCo B) too are deployed successfully. Cheers and applause at mission control as the InSight spacecraft separates from the United Launch Alliance Centaur upper stage to fly freely for the first time.
5.59 pm: InSight is preparing for separation now from Centaur. The Centaur MECO 2 (Main Engine Cut off) has begun. InSight will now be on a 9-minute coast phase before separating from Centaur.
5.40 pm: The solar and battery-powered lander is expected to operate for about 26 Eearth months. It is equivalent to one year on Mars. During this period, InSight is expected to pick up as many as 100 quakes.
5.20 pm: InSight carries two key instruments on board. One of them is a seismometer (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure). Made by French Space Agency, the seismometer is placed on Mars’ surface with the help of a robotic arm once InSight lands on the planet. The second instrument is a self-hammering probe that will bore down 10-16 feet below the planet’s surface. It will be about 15 times deeper than any previous Mars mission.
5.01 pm: InSight will be released about 90 minutes after it starts its 301 million mile (484 million km) journey to Mars. If everything goes well, the payload will reach its destination in six months, landing on a broad, smooth plain close to Mars’ equator called the Elysium Planitia. When it lands, InSight will be about 373 miles (600 km) from the 2012 landing site of the car-sized Mars rover Curiosity.
4.48 pm: 13 minutes into the flight, InSight it ready for the second stage. The second stage engine has cut off. NASA has confirmed the main engine cutoff (MECO). The spacecraft is now on its coast phase. The Atlas V rocket continues to propel InSight closer to Mars.
4.46 pm: 11 minutes into the flight, InSight is currently at an altitude of 131 miles.
4.42 pm: We are 7.15 minutes into the flight.
4.39 pm: We are 3.50 seconds into the flight. InSight is readying for booster separation.
4.36 pm: It’s lift-off. Mankind’s mission to study Mars surface has begun. InSight is on its way, carrying NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) to begin its almost six month voyage to Mars.
4.30pm: All the launch teams have conducted the poll and give their go for the lift-off.
4.21 pm: The launch countdown is on the T-4 minute hold. The lift off is about 14 minutes from the lift off. NASA announces there are no weather constraints. During the last four minutes of the countdown, the two propellant tanks - Atlas and Centaur - will be brought up to flight pressure. After this, a computerised auto sequencer will take over the countdown so that a number of activities are performed in the precise order.
InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is readied at a cost of $993 million and aims to expan our knowledge of conditions on the Red Planet, find out if human explorers could be sent there, and also reveal how rocky planets like the Earth formed billions of years ago. Once it lands on Mars, it will be the first NASA spacecraft to land on Mars since the Curiosity rover in 2012.
Watch live streaming of NASA Mars InSight lander launch here.
The key instrument on board the spacecraft is a seismometer which will be deployed on the Martian ground by a robotic arm. InSight will also carry a self-hammering probe, which will bore down 10 to 16 feet below the planet’s surface. It will be 15 times deeper than any previous Mars mission. The solar and battery-powered lander is designed to operate for 26 Earth months, or one year on Mars, a period in which it is expected to pick up as many as 100 quakes.
InSight was initially scheduled to be launched in 2012, but the programme was delayed after engineers spotted a problem with a part of the seismometer after temperature tests. The snag has since been fixed.