13. February 2019

InSight mission – DLR 'Mole' deployed on surface of Mars

HP³ on the Martian surface
DLR HP³ experiment on the Martian surface
Image 1/8, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

DLR HP³ experiment on the Martian surface

On 12 February 2019, the DLR HP³ experiment was deployed on Mars by the robotic arm of the NASA InSight lander.

HP³ experiment to the left of the SEIS seismometerc
HP³ experiment to the left of the SEIS seismometer
Image 2/8, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

HP³ experiment to the left of the SEIS seismometer

The HP³ experiment is now situated about one metre to the left of the SEIS seismometer. Both experiments were set down on Mars by the robotic arm of the NASA InSight lander.

HP³ cutaway rendering
HP³ cutaway rendering
Image 3/8, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/DLR.

HP³ cutaway rendering

An artist's concept of InSight's heat probe, called the Heat Physical Properties Package, or HP³.

This annotated cutaway rendering labels various parts inside of the instrument.

JPL manages InSight for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, with significant contributions from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Zurich, Switzerland, Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and JPL. DLR provided the Physical Properties Package (HP³) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the wind sensors.

Testing HP³
Testing HP³ in Germany
Image 4/8, Credit: DLR/NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Testing HP³ in Germany

The InSight mission is being conducted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, on behalf of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program. DLR contributed the HP³ experiment to the mission. Scientific leadership lies with the DLR Institute of Planetary Research, which was also in charge of developing the experiment in collaboration with the DLR institutes of Space Systems, Optical Sensor Systems, Space Operations and Astronaut Training, Composite Structures and Adaptive Systems, System Dynamics and Control, as well as the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics.

InSight lander on the Martian surface
'Selfie' of the InSight lander on the Martian surface
Image 5/8, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

'Selfie' of the InSight lander on the Martian surface

InSight's first complete 'selfie' on Mars. It shows the solar arrays and the platform of the lander. On the platform are its scientific instruments and the UHF antenna.

Construction of the InSight lander
The InSight lander nearing its completion
Image 6/8, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltechn/Lockheed Martin Space.

The InSight lander nearing its completion

Lockheed Martin Space constructed the InSight lander for NASA. The InSight lander will carry two major experiments, the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP³) and the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), to Mars, where a robotic arm will place them beside the spacecraft after landing.

Instruments and technical components of InSight
Instruments and technical components of InSight
Image 7/8, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Instruments and technical components of InSight

InSight’s structural design is similar to that of NASA’s Phoenix lander from 2008. The main component is a platform two metres in diameter, on which most of the system components – the experiments in their ‘transport mode’, the antennas, the on-board computer, the thrusters, the propellant tanks and three telescopic legs are attached. A robotic arm will be deployed after landing and lift the experiments HP³ and SEIS from the platform onto the Martian surface. At the side of the platform are two solar panels, which produce a maximum of 700 watts, depending on the distance between Mars and the Sun. The RISE experiment is conducted from the platform itself.

Artist’s impression of the NASA InSight lander on the Martian surface
Artist’s impression of the NASA InSight lander on the Martian surface
Image 8/8, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Artist’s impression of the NASA InSight lander on the Martian surface

Launched on 5 May 2018, NASA’s InSight spacecraft will land on 26 November, just north of the Martian equator, and deploy its solar panels. SEIS, an instrument for recording seismic waves (left of image), and HP³, an instrument developed by DLR to measure the thermal conductivity of the Martian regolith and the heat flow from the interior of the planet (right of image), will be placed on the surface of the planet possibly before the turn of the year.

  • HP³ experiment is now in a stable position approximately 1.5 metres away from the lander
  • Heat flow from the interior of Mars will be investigated
  • Operational planning for the DLR instrument is currently underway
  • Focus: Space, exploration

It stands vertically on flat ground, ready for its historic mission. At 19:18 CET on 12 February 2019, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP³) or 'Mole' was deployed on the Martian surface using the NASA InSight mission's robotic arm. In the coming weeks, the remote controlled penetrometer is expected to make space history by becoming the first probe to reach a depth of up to five metres in the Martian subsurface. Its goal is to measure the temperature and thermal conductivity of the subsurface and thus determine the heat flow from the interior of Mars. The heat flow gives researchers indications about the thermal activity of the Red Planet. This can provide insights into the evolution of the Martian interior, whether it still has a hot liquid core, and what makes Earth so special in comparison.

"We are pleased that the deployment of our HP³ experiment onto the Martian surface went so smoothly," says Principal Investigator Tilman Spohn from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin. HP³ is now in a stable position approximately 1.5 metres from the lander. "We hope that the Mole will not encounter any large rocks on its way into the subsurface," Spohn says. The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) was deployed previously – complete with an additional cover to protect it against wind and temperature fluctuations – at a similar distance from the InSight lander. SEIS and HP³ are approximately one metre apart.

Thermal evolution of the planets and life on Earth

"From a thermophysical perspective, planets can be considered heat engines that generate volcanism, tectonics and magnetism," explains Spohn. Heat flow measurements are important boundary conditions for modelling the thermal evolution of Earth, Mars and other planets. While the seismometer and the observation of perturbations of the planet's rotation axis as part of the InSight Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE) shed light on Mars' interior structure, the measured heat flow constrains hypotheses about its evolution.

For the most part, scientists are convinced that a planet's geological evolution has great significance for its ability to host life and for the events that allow life to emerge at all. In the course of Earth's evolution, continents and oceans formed that are constantly subject to change and tectonic shifts. The shallow continental seas or the chains of volcanoes in the oceans could be the places where life emerged. Mars lacks these tectonic elements, probably because it is smaller, and also because it does not have enough water to facilitate the process of plate tectonics – as happens on Earth – over a longer time period or permanently. Mars had more water and ice in its early days than it does today and could have been hospitable to life, at least intermittently. With the help of InSight's measurements, researchers aim to gain a better understanding of the planetary-physical aspects of these complex interrelationships.

Into the depths in intervals

The Mole will pull a five-metre-long tether equipped with temperature sensors behind it into the Martian soil. After the target depth is reached, the tether's sensors will measure the temperature distribution at different depths and as it changes over time. In addition, the thermal infrared radiometer RAD on the InSight lander will measure the temperature of the Martian soil at the surface. Operational planning for the DLR instrument is currently underway.

The HP³ instrument on NASA's InSight mission

The InSight mission is being conducted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, on behalf of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program. DLR contributed the HP³ experiment to the mission. Scientific leadership lies with the DLR Institute of Planetary Research, which was also in charge of developing the experiment in collaboration with the DLR institutes of Space Systems, Optical Sensor Systems, Space Operations and Astronaut Training, Composite Structures and Adaptive Systems, System Dynamics and Control, as well as the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics. Industrial partners are Astronika and the CBK Space Research Centre, Magson GmbH and Sonaca SA, the Institute of Photonic Technology (IPHT) and Astro- und Feinwerktechnik Adlershof GmbH. Scientific partners are the ÖAW Space Research Institute at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Kaiserslautern. The DLR Microgravity User Support Center (MUSC) in Cologne is responsible for HP³ operations. In addition, the DLR Space Administration, with funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, supported a contribution by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research to the French main instrument SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure).

Detailed information on the InSight mission and the HP³ experiment can be found on DLR's dedicated mission site, with extensive background articles and the mission brochure. For mission updates, follow the hashtag #MarsMaulwurf on the DLR Twitter feed. Principal Investigator Tilman Spohn reports on the status of the mission in a blog.

Contact
  • Falk Dambowsky
    Editor
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Media Relations
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-3959
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249
    Linder Höhe
    51147  Cologne
    Contact
  • Christian Krause
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)

    Microgravity User Support Center (MUSC), Space Operations and Astronaut Training
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-3048
    Linder Höhe
    51147  Köln
    Contact
  • Torben Wippermann
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Institute of Space Systems
    Telephone: +49 421 24420-1120
    Robert-Hooke-Straße  7
    28359 Bremen
  • Dr Roy Lichtenheldt
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    System Dynamics and Control
    Telephone: +49 8153 28-3095
    Fax: Institute of System Dynamics and Control
    Münchener Straße 20
    82234  Oberpfaffenhofen-Weßling
  • Dr.-Ing. Björn Timo Kletz
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)

    DLR Institute of Composite Structures and Adaptive Systems
    Telephone: +49 531 295-3228
    Fax: +49 531 295-2876
    Lilienthalplatz 7
    38108 Braunschweig
    Contact
  • Prof.Dr. Tilman Spohn
    HP³ Principal Investigator
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)

    DLR Institute of Planetary Research
    Telephone: +49 30 67055-300
    Fax: +49 30 67055-303
    Linder Höhe
    51147  Köln
    Contact
  • Matthias Grott
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    DLR Institute of Planetary Research, Planetary Geodesy
    Telephone: +49 30 67055-419
     
    Contact
  • Dr Anko Börner
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    DLR Institute of Optical Sensor Systems
    Institute of Optical Sensor Systems
    Telephone: +49 30 67055-509
    Rutherfordstraße 2
    12489  Berlin-Adlershof
  • Martin Knapmeyer
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Institute of Planetary Research
    Telephone: +49 30 67055-394
    Rutherfordstraße 2
    12489  Berlin
    Contact

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