InSight mission – Diagnostic run for the 'Mole' on Mars

21 March 2019

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  • Während der Marsmaulwurf (links) hämmert lauscht das Seismometer (rechts) den Schlägen im Boden.
    The 'Mole' (left) and seismometer (centre) on the Martian surface

    While the 'Mole' (left) hammers, the seismometer (right) will closely monitor any movement.

  • HP3 auf dem Marsboden
    HP3 on the Martian surface

    DLR's Mars 'Mole' HP3 on the Martian surface after being released by the InSight lander's robotic arm.

  • Since the Mole has no further progress since it reached a depth of approximately 30 centimetres at the beginning of March, a more detailed analysis of the situation is necessary.
  • A diagnostic run will provide further insights and develop ideas for its release.
  • Focus: Space travel, exploration

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) will command the Mars ‘Mole’ to begin a short new round of hammering at the end of March. The seismometer and the camera will closely monitor the movement of the Mole. The researchers want to analyse in more detail the situation of the self-hammering probe, which has shown no further progress since it reached a depth of approximately 30 centimetres at the beginning of March. Different ideas for releasing the Mole require a more detailed analysis of the situation and at least a few more weeks to test different strategies on Earth.

"It is still unclear whether the Mole is blocked by a single rock or a layer of gravel, or whether the rear section of the probe is caught in the carrier structure. This could have happened because the device has penetrated the ground at an angle of about 15 degrees to the vertical,” says Tilman Spohn of the DLR Institute of Planetary Research, who is currently reporting on the progress of the mission in a blog. The scientists had hoped that, within a few months of the InSight landing, the Mole would have reached a depth of at least three metres below the Martian surface. Initial measurements of the thermal conductivity of the ground using the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) have now been carried out at a depth of 30 centimetres. The researchers are still hoping to conduct additional measurements at a later date.

The Mole’s team is currently planning a 10- to 15-minute diagnostic hammering test at the end of March. The InSight seismometer will ‘listen’ to the Mole; its behaviour as it encounters the obstacle could possibly give a more precise indication of what is blocking the Mole. The camera on InSight’s robotic arm will image the support structure during the entire process in the hope of capturing any movements the Mole causes while hammering.

In April, DLR will send an exact replica of HP3 to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. This will enable the JPL team, in collaboration with DLR engineers and scientists working on another HP3 replica in Bremen, to begin conducting further tests on Earth.

The HP³ Instrument on NASA’s InSight mission

The InSight mission is being carried out by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, on behalf of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program. DLR is contributing the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP³) experiment to the mission. The scientific leadership lies with the DLR Institute of Planetary Research, which was also in charge of developing and implementing the experiment in collaboration with the DLR Institutes of Space Systems, Optical Sensor Systems, Space Operations and Astronaut Training, Composite Structures and Adaptive Systems, and System Dynamics and Control, as well as the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics. Participating industrial partners are Astronika and the CBK Space Research Centre, Magson GmbH and Sonaca SA, the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology (IPHT) as well as 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 German 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 is available on DLR’s dedicated mission site with extensive background articles. You can also find information in the animation and brochure about the mission or via the hashtag #MarsMaulwurf on the DLR Twitter channel. Tilman Spohn, the Principal Investigator for the HP³ experiment, is also providing updates in the DLR Blog portal about the activities of the Mars Mole.

Last modified:
01/05/2019 15:22:31



Falk Dambowsky
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Media Relations

Tel.: +49 2203 601-3959
Tilman Spohn
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

HP3 Principal Investigator
Christian Krause
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Operation: HP3, STATIL
Matthias Grott
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

HP3 project scientist and InSight science team member; Focus on heat flow and thermal conductivity measurements; Instrument development
Torben Wippermann
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

DLR Institute of Space Systems

Tel.: +49 421 24420-1120
Dr Anko Börner
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

DLR Institute of Optical Sensor Systems

Tel.: +49 30 67055-509
Dr Roy Lichtenheldt
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Institute of System Dynamics and Control

Tel.: +49 8153 28-3095
Dr Martin Knapmeyer
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

DLR Institute of Planetary Research

Tel.: +49 30 67055-394
Prof. Dr. Jörg Melcher
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

DLR Institute of Composite Structures and Adaptice Systems

Tel.: +49 531 295-2850

Fax: +49 531 295-2875