NASA will launch its first-ever mission InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) to study the deep interior of Mars on May 5, 2018. It will be launched from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. The rocket will also launch two mini-spacecraft called Mars Cube One (MarCO) which is NASA’s technology experiment.
InSight is stationary lander that will be first NASA mission since Apollo moon landings to place seismometer, a device that measures quakes on soil of another planet. It has been 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.
InSight is terrestrial planet explorer that will 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. Its instruments include seismometer to detect marsquakes and probe that will monitor flow of heat in planet’s subsurface.
The robotic lander will perform a radio science experiment to study internal structure of Mars by deploying seismometer and a 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. It will be 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 but is independent of InSight mission. If successful, MarCOs will offer new kind of communication capability to deep space missions to Earth.