NASA launched first-ever InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) lander dedicated to exploring the deep interior of Mars. It was launched aboard United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The rocket also launched two mini-spacecraft called Mars Cube One (MarCO) — MarCO-A and MarCO-B.
InSight is solar and battery-powered terrestrial planet explorer (robotic lander) that aims to address one of most fundamental issues of planetary and solar system science. It will help in understanding processes that shaped rocky planets of inner solar system (including Earth) more than four billion years ago. The lander is expected to land on Mars in November 2018.
The mission was envisaged as part of NASA’s Discovery Program mission that aims to place stationary lander equipped with seismometer and heat transfer probe on surface of Mars to study red planet’s early geological evolution. The lander is designed to operate for 26 Earth months, or one year on Mars.
The robotic lander will perform a radio science experiment to study internal structure of Mars by deploying Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (seismometer) and Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (burrowing heat probe). It will measure Mar’s vital signs such as pulse (seismology), temperature (heat flow probe) and reflexes (precision tracking). It will let scientists understand how different its crust, mantle and core are from Earth.
MarCO consists of two briefcase-sized CubeSats that will fly on their own path to Mars behind InSight lander, but is independent of InSight mission. They are first test of CubeSat technology in deep space or at another planet. They are designed to test new communications and navigation capabilities for future missions and may aid InSight communications. If successful, MarCOs will offer new kind of communication capability to deep space missions to Earth.