On November 26, 2018, NASA Insight Lander touched down successfully at the Elysium Planitia on Mars. Every scientist across the world celebrated this milestone attained by NASA. NASA sent the Insight lander to Mars to study the planet’s deep interior, and to solve other complex problems of Solar System Science.
As of today, being May 25, 2022, the Insight Rover has studied Mars for 1242sols (ie, 1276 days, or 3 years and 180 days on earth). In fact, the lander is still active and conducting its mission on Mars. However, NASA has officially announced when the rover will cease operation on Mars.
So when will Insight Rover retire? What has the rover accomplished so far? What have we learned from Insight’s active moment on Mars? The answers to these questions will be explained in detail in this blog post. Let’s get started.
When Will NASA Insight Lander Retire?
After studying Mars and updating our knowledge about the core of the red planet and its formation, NASA has decided to retire the Insight Rover. On May 17, NASA announced that the Insight Lander Mission will end later in the year.
This announcement saddened many scientists as the lander has made several notable discoveries during its active state. Although NASA was not specific on a particular day they will retire the Insight Rover, they are certain about retiring the Insight Lander before the end of 2022.
Why is NASA retiring Insight Lander?
The Insight mission cost NASA a whopping sum of $813.6 million. So why will the agency retire the lander when it has only spent approximately 4 years on Mars? Unlike other robotic rovers exploring Mars, Insight is a stationary robotic lander that was sent to Mars on a temporary mission.
NASA has initially planned to end the Insight mission by December 2022. However, the agency saw the need to extend the lifespan of the lander. But on second thought, NASA realized that the insight lander may not stay longer than December 2022. So they decided to stick to their initial plan.
The major reason why NASA is retiring the Insight lander is that the Lander is running out of power. NASA Insight Lander gets its power from its solar arrays. The lander was designed with two large solar panels to sustain it throughout the mission on Mars.
In fact, these solar panels generate about 10,000 watt-hours per Martian day. With this amount of energy, the Insight lander can continue its operation for decades to come. But there is one common problem on Mars. And this problem is Mars Dust. Mars Dust has continued to cover these solar panels making it impossible for the solar arrays to power the lander.
Dust storms on Mars have disrupted most solar-powered missions on the red planet. Due to the continuous disturbance of Mars Dust, the solar panels attached to the Insight Lander generate only 1,000 watt-hour per Martian day. NASA noticed that this amount of power generation has continued to drop over time. So the agency decided to end the mission later this year.
What has the Insight Lander discovered on Mars?
The Insight lander has made notable discoveries on Mars. Even though the lander has not gotten enough attention like the Perseverance Rover, the world still appreciates the unique discoveries it made on Mars. The primary goal of the lander is to help us understand the formation of rocky planets within the solar system.
However, in its course of exploring mars, the lander has given us more scientific knowledge than what scientists had earlier expected from the rover. The lander has made the following notable discoveries on Mars’s surface.
The insight lander enabled scientists to discover over 1300 marsquakes of different sizes on the Martian surface. The Marsquakes were so powerful that they produced vibrations which enabled the insight spacecraft to study the interior of the red planet.
From this discovery, scientists were able to study Mars Core and learned that it is quite massive but not as dense as they earlier predicted. Scientists further studied Mars’ Mantle and learned that it is not so high, but quite impressive.
The crust of Mars was also discovered not to be as thick as they earlier predicted. These data provided by an insight spacecraft about Mars’s interior enabled scientists to understand the nature of the red planet about 4.5 billion years ago.
2. Understand Mars’ Weather
The insight lander enabled scientists to understand the weather conditions at its landing spot on Mars. They used this measurement to learn more about the climate changes on the red planet.
Although scientists intended to measure the heat flow measurement using the insight lander, however, they were not able to attain this milestone as the heat flow probe could not get down to 3.5 meters into the Mars surface and conduct the experiment.
But scientists figured out how to estimate the heat measurement via heat transfer on the Mars surface.
3. Mars Wind May Cover Quakes
NASA insight lander detected over 1300 quakes on the Martian surface. However, its ability to detect quakes was slowed down in June 2020. As a result of this, the insight lander was only able to detect 5 quakes detected between September to December 2020.
Scientists became desperate to find out what was going on. After conducting several studies, scientists came to understand that the Mars wind is the reason why the Insight lander stopped detecting quakes on Mars.
When the red planet embraces its windiest season around June of the Martian year, the mars wind tends to blank out marsquakes and prevent the insight lander from detecting them. During future missions to Mars, Scientists will surely figure out how to solve the problem.
Mars has remained our next target in deep space exploration. Space agencies have been sending rovers, landers, and orbiters to explore the planet and increase our knowledge about its formation, hostile environment, and search for past life.
We will continue to research the red planet until we figure out how to sustain humans on Mars. As NASA plans to retire the insight lander by the end of this year, the space agency may be working on another mission to continue the research in the future. Do you think the insight lander will make more remarkable discoveries before its final day on Mars?