The Mars InSight mission passes the TVAC tests before the 2018 launch


November 22, 2017 by Chris Bergin

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The mission of NASA "Inner exploration using seismic investigations, geodesy and heat transport (InSight)" received another boost before launch, when the ship Spacecraft pbaded its thermal vacuum (TVAC) a landmark in Colorado. The mission is on track for May next year, which will include the first interplanetary launch from the west coast.

InSight Mission:

The latest battery of tests was designed to validate that the spacecraft could survive the six-month trip to Mars and carry out its important work on the red planet.

The United States is the world champion of successfully sending spacecraft and landers to Mars, a task that remains incredibly difficult to achieve. Landing them in a healthy condition is even more difficult.

The thermal vacuum test (TVAC) is the most complete test you can perform on a fully badembled spacecraft before its launch.

Using a special depressurized chamber, TVAC emphasizes the design and badembly of the system, validating its integrity and operational capabilities in a simulated, severe and space-like environment.

"This milestone came after a long series of rigorous tests including solar array deployment and electromagnetic interference and test compatibility, Lockheed Martin said in a statement Wednesday.

Pbading this test phase is a major milestone. for the mission, especially since a leak was discovered during a previous test period.

During the environmental test phase, the landing module was exposed to extreme temperatures, vacuum conditions of almost zero air pressure simulating interplanetary space and a battery of tests.

One of the tests is designed to ensure that the main sensors of the seismometric instrument can operate within a vacuum chamber to provide the exquisite sensitivity needed to measure earth motions as small as half the radius. of a hydrogen atom.

A leak prevents the seismometer from retaining the conditions of empty, but it was repaired, and the mission team was hoping that the solution would be successful. However, during the follow-up tests in extremely cold temperatures (-49 degrees Fahrenheit / -45 degrees Celsius), the instrument again could not contain the vacuum.

The discovery of the problem with the instrument Seismic experiment for interior structure (SEIS) was the responsibility of CNES, not Lockheed Martin.

Now, with the TVAC tests as a success, the spacecraft can expect preparations for shipment to the launch site for integration with its launch vehicle.

With InSight leaving TVAC, the Lockheed Martin team has successfully completed the environmental testing phase and will be finalizing the launch preparations in the coming months, "the company added.

The launch is ready for a period five weeks that opens on May 5, 2018. The trip to Mars will result in a landing on Monday after Thanksgiving in 2018.

The spacecraft will be launched by the Atlas V rocket of the United Launch Alliance (ULA ) flying in its 401 configuration.

This type of main mission is something that the ULA rockets stand out with, with each launch carried out by the company climbing smoothly.

However, this will be the first time he will have an interplanetary mission launched from a West Coast launch site.The only other deep launch of the West Coast was the Clementine mission that was launched to the Moon by a Titan II rocket on January 25, 1994.

Due to the trajectory requirements for spacecraft launched for such missions, the east coast is usually the main site. However, the option to take off from the west coast was taken due to the relatively small mbad of the spacecraft, allowing the powerful Atlas V to have room to launch from its launch site SLC-3E West Coast at the Air Base. Vandenberg. .

Using the less busy site on the west coast also helps the launch window, with multiple opportunities available without the distraction of other rockets, of which there are many in the east range.

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The InSight mission is based on a strong international partnership led by Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of JPL. The package of heat flow and physical properties of the lander is provided by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

While the spacecraft presents numerous elements, a surprising feature of the lander is a probe that will be hammered to a depth of approximately 16 feet (5 meters) on the ground next to the lander, which provides – as suggested the name of the mission – important information about the interior of Mars.

Called Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP³) and designed by the German Aerospace Institute (DLR), it will hammer on the Martian surface, farther than any probe has ever looked inside Mars, and will take readings of underground temperature.

 Z7 "HP3 consists of a so-called 'Mole', which will hammer it in the subsoil.The mole pulls an instrumented tie behind it, which is equipped with sensors temperature to determine the thermal gradient in the soil, "said the DLR information.

"The target of the mole is a depth of 5 m below the surface." In addition to the temperature sensors, the mole is equipped with heating sheets, which will be used to determine the thermal conductivity of the regolith by operating the mole as a modified line heat source. "

 Z8 A The radiometer mounted on the lander, which will measure the surface temperature at the landing site, will complement HP³. The surface temperature readings will allow scientists to better interpret the temperature variations that HP3 finds while probing beneath the martian surface.

For example, a shaded area on the surface may cause cooler temperature readings on the ground below it. In addition, the radiometer will detect the dust cover and the compaction of the soil surface.

HP³ is derived from the designs of the multipurpose sensor (MUPUS) aboard the ESA Rosetta spacecraft and the underground planetary tool (PLUTO), which would have looked below the Martian surface from the failed lander Beagle 2.

The mission will further help our understanding of Mars, which is a continuous process, especially after this week's news that dark features previously proposed as evidence of important liquid water flowing on Mars are now identified as granular flows, according to the United States Geological Survey .

(Images via Lockheed Martin, NASA and DLR).

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