May 2018 will see the launch of the NASA Insight mission, in which a lander will carry out geophysical measurements directly on the surface of Mars to explore the planet’s inner structure and thermal balance. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) has contributed to this mission in the form of the HP3 instrument. On 26 November 2018, InSight will touch down north of the equator, on the Elysium Planitia plain. Following a test phase, the experiments will commence after the 2018/19 turn of the year. The duration of the mission is initially set at one Mars year, which corresponds to approximately two Earth years.
For the first time since the astronaut mission Apollo 17 in 1972, heat flow measurements will be carried out on another celestial body using a drilling mechanism. The main aim of the experiment is to be able to determine the thermal state of the interior of Mars using thermal flow measurements taken beneath the surface. Models of Mars’ formation, chemical composition and inner structure can be checked and refined on the basis of this data. The measurements from Mars can also be used to draw conclusions about Earth’s early development.
Animation: "HP3 - a small probe that will hammer five metres deep into the Martian soil (NASA’s InSight mission)"
Over the course of a few months, the HP3 'Mole' developed by the German Aerospace Centre (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR) will burrow up to five metres deep into the Red Planet to explore its inner structure. This will be the first time that a fully automatic self-hammering probe of this sort has been used.
The formation of planets and the occurrence of volcanism and earthquakes are determined by the thermally driven forces acting inside a planet. Continents and life as we know it emerged on Earth. On Mars, the internal development dynamics slowed rapidly. To decipher the interior of Mars and its past in more detail, and to find out what makes Earth so unique, an Atlas launch vehicle will lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 13:05 CEST (04:05 local time) on 5 May, carrying NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander to Mars.
The first 1480 kilometres from Denver to the launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California have been completed – aboard an aircraft. The InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) lander will now have to travel the remaining 485 million kilometres to Mars alone, following its planned launch on 5 May 2018.