The next spacecraft that NASA is sending to Mars is not a rover or an orbiter, but rather a lander. The rovers move on the surface while the orbiters remain in orbit around the planet, but the landers remain stationary in one place and take care of their affairs.
Called InSight (short for Inland exploration using seismic investigations, geodesy and heat transport), the lander is currently scheduled to take off sometime in May 2018, and once it arrives at Mars (in November, if there are no delays in the launching), the interior of the red planet will be studied. As its name suggests, InSight will study seismic activity, subsurface heat and the general interior structure of Mars.
"Think of InSight as the first health check of Mars in more than 4,500 million years, we will study your pulse by" listening "to the marsquakes with a seismometer, we will take your temperature with a heat probe and we will check your reflexes with a radio experiment, "said Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the mission's principal investigator, in a statement on Wednesday.
To do all this, the spacecraft is equipped with different instruments, which work with two arrays of solar panels. These panels are designed as fans, specially configured to maximize energy production from weak sunlight on Mars, given the planet's distance from the sun and its thin, dusty atmosphere.
On Tuesday, the panels successfully passed a test in which the solar panels were extended to their full length. The engineers and technicians verified that the solar panels were fully deployed and also performed a lighting test to confirm that the solar cells were accumulating energy.