MAR 06, 2019 4:43 PM PST

Heat Probe On NASA's InSight Lander Halts Digging Amid Unexpected Obstacle

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

NASA’s InSight mission touched down on the Martian surface just over three months ago, and as you might come to expect, the lander has been somewhat busy setting up camp at its landing spot ever since.

The InSight lander's heat flow probe after being set on the ground to begin digging.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/DLR

InSight began by deploying its seismometer instrument approximately one month after landing on Mars, but that was only the beginning. Another critical component of the InSight mission is to analyze Mars’ internal planetary temperatures with a heat flow probe called the Heat and Physical Properties Package.

InSight’s heat flow probe is designed to operate at 16 feet (5 meters) underground, which means the lander will need to penetrate its way down into the surface if we should ever hope to capture viable measurements. NASA recently ordered InSight to commence this digging process, but as it would seem, those efforts have been halted due to unexpected complications.

In a statement released just this week by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, we learn that InSight’s heat flow probe made it approximately 75% of the way out of its protective housing before all progress came to a screeching halt. The instrument’s tip is being met with resistance from something beneath the Martian surface, such as a concealed rock or gravel.

NASA specifically chose InSight’s particular landing spot because satellite imagery gave the impression that it would be mostly free of such obstructions; that said, looks can be deceiving. Given the circumstances, engineers are pumping the brakes a bit to re-analyze the situation, and with a little luck, perhaps they’ll discern a way to resolve the issue.

“The mole is healthy and performed a round of hammering on the weekend. It has, thus far, continued to work against some resistance without clear evidence for progress,” elucidated Heat and Physical Properties Package principal investigator Tilman Spohn. “The team has therefore decided to pause the hammering for about two weeks to allow the situation to be analyzed more closely and jointly come up with strategies for overcoming the obstacle.”

Related: Learn more about NASA's plan to drill deeper into the Martian surface than ever before

Despite the apparent hurdle, NASA says the probe itself is working as designed and that it’s being calibrated as we speak by fluctuations in surface temperature through a property dubbed thermal conductivity. After it gets where it’s supposed to go, these calibrations will help NASA discern ordinary readings from unusual ones, and this will give scientists the data they’re looking for.

It should be interesting to see how engineers will respond to the situation; after all, it’d be a crying shame if InSight couldn’t get its heat flow probe in place.

Source: NASA JPL, DLR

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
NOV 17, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 17, 2019
Hayabusa-2 Departs Ryugu Asteroid to Return to Earth with Samples
It’s been just over a year since JAXA’s renowned Hayabusa-2 mission arrived at asteroid 162173 Ryugu to study the dynamics of the distant space...
DEC 31, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 31, 2019
Why Does This Star Dim Unpredictably?
KIC 8462852, also known as Tabby’s Star or the infamous ‘alien megastructure star,’ is peculiar because the star’s light seems to d...
JAN 05, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 05, 2020
Is Betelgeuse on the Verge of Going Supernova?
There’s been a lot of discussion happening as of late with respect to the Orion constellation’s red supergiant star Betelgeuse. Being one of th...
MAR 01, 2020
Space & Astronomy
MAR 01, 2020
Utilizing the Moon's Resources for Lunar Missions
Plans for future space exploration are taking shape, and many of those are expected to be crewed. One such example involves the Moon, and if astronauts are...
MAR 15, 2020
Space & Astronomy
MAR 15, 2020
This Exoplanet Rains... Iron!?
Many of us take the Earth and its many ‘normal’ characteristics for granted, but there are so many exoplanets in the universe around us with th...
MAR 22, 2020
Space & Astronomy
MAR 22, 2020
Critical Sample Handling Equipment is Installed on the Perseverance Rover
It was only a couple of weeks ago that NASA’s Mars 2020 rover got renamed to the Perseverance rover, and with a launch opportunity rapidly approachin...
Loading Comments...