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 touched 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)"
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.
It was a task that required centimetre precision. Over the last few weeks, researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) have measured every rock shown in the images of the InSight landing site and used the radiometer that is part of the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP³) experiment to analyse the dust on the surface of Mars, in order to determine the ideal point for deploying the InSight mission's instruments.
Just a few weeks from now, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) HP3 Mole will start hammering its way automatically into the subsoil of the Red Planet to measure its inner heat.