Artist impression of NASA InSight Mars Rover. Credits: NASA JPL

The end: after 4 years of great science discoveries the Mars InSight Mission is over

Due to the presence of dust on the solar panels, the Mars InSight Rover mission has been declared over after 4 years of service.

In the last few days, the team at NASA JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) has tried unsuccessfully to reach the Rover InSight, the batteries have run out and the lander has no more energy. NASA had previously decided to declare the mission over if the lander missed two communication attempts, the last contact between the martian rover and Earth was on December 15.

Due to sandstorms and the martian winds, a layer of dust began to form over the solar panels causing a decline of power generation. Recently the problem has become more serious, forcing the team to shut down all the scientific instruments one by one.  

The last image sent by Rover InSight on December 15, 2022. Credit: NASA JPL
The last image sent by Rover InSight on December 15, 2022. Credits: NASA JPL

In the last contact, InSight was able to send one last image from the Red Planet, published by the JPL team with an emotional farewell message:

“My power’s really low, so this may be the last image I can send. Don’t worry about me though: my time here has been both productive and serene. If I can keep talking to my mission team, I will – but I’ll be signing off here soon. Thanks for staying with me.”

In this 4 years of mission the rover Insight has left a lot of precious scientific data about Mars crust, mantle and core thanks to its seismometer. It also collected important weather data about Elysium Planitia, the Mars region where Insight landed.

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Mars InSight Mission overview

InSight was a lander manufactured by Lockheed Martin Space and managed by NASA JPL, most of the scientific instruments aboard the rover were built by European agencies. Its main objective was to study the “inner space” of Mars, in particular, the mission had two scientific goals:

  1. Understand the formation and evolution of Mars. InSight has studied the interior of the planet determining the size and composition of the core, the thickness and structure of the crust, the structure of the mantle and the interior temperature.
  2. Determine the level of tectonic activity on Mars. InSight examined the state of today’s tectonic activity on Mars measuring the seismic activity and how often the meteorites impact the surface.

The largest parts of these achievements were possible thanks to a seismometer, called  Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), deployed by the rover on the surface of Mars one month after its arrival. This instrument has measured seismic activity and provided accurate 3D models of the planet’s interior.

Artist impression of NASA InSight Mars Rover. Credits: NASA JPL
Artist impression of NASA InSight Mars Rover. Credits: NASA JPL-Caltech

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The journey from Earth to Mars

After the assembly and testing of InSight at Lockheed Martin in Colorado, the spacecraft was shipped to Vandenberg Air Force Base. InSight launched from Launch Complex 3 on an Atlas V-401 rocket provided by United Launch Alliance (ULA, a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp), on May 5, 2018. 

Lift off of rocket Atlas V-401, carrying the InSight spacecraft, on May 5, 2018. Credit: NASAJPL
Lift off of rocket Atlas V-401, carrying the InSight spacecraft, on May 5, 2018. Credits: NASA JPL

The cruise took almost 7 months, during this time the JPL Team performed six trajectory adjustments, checked the spacecraft subsystems and started preparing for entry, descent and landing about 60 days before the spacecraft entered the Martian atmosphere.

The spacecraft entered the martian atmosphere protected by the heat shield, and after the opening of the parachute, the heat shield was ejected from the lander. 50 meters from the surface the landing rockets were turned on, reaching an 8.0 km/h approaching velocity.

InSight touched down on Mars’s Elysium Planitia at 07:52:59 p.m. UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) on Nov. 26, 2018. 

The team at NASA JPL while waiting for the first image of Mars from lander InSight , shortly after the landing. Credit: NASA JPL
The team at NASA JPL while waiting for the first image of Mars from the lander InSight , shortly after the landing. Credits: NASA JPL

15 minutes after the landing InSight deployed the solar panels and other checkouts were made during the first day. Some science data collection began the first week after landing and on December 7 InSight recorded for the first time ever the sound of Mars’s wind

On December 19 the rover’s robotic arm finally deployed the SEIS on the surface and in April 2019 the first marsquake was detected; in total InSight detected 1313 marsquakes during the entire mission period. Many other important discoveries were made and the InSight mission was extended by two years, until yesterday, December 21, 2022, when the mission was declared over.

Thank you for all InSight!

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Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Aerospace engineering student at University of Padua, passionate of space and aerospace sector. Founder of the Instagram page Spaceroomitaly.

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