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InSight: NASA's Next Mars Mission to Investigate the Interior of the Red Planet
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On May 5, 2018, the launch window for InSight, NASA's next mission to Mars, will open. The InSight lander will lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, toward the Red Planet. It will be the first launch from the west coast of the USA of any interplanetary mission.
After a six months journey into deep space, on November 26 2018, InSight will land on the dusty and flat plains of Elysium, near the Martian equator, after an incredibly perilous and complex descent of 7 minutes through the Martian atmosphere. If everything goes well, the probe will then deploy two crucial instruments on the Martian ground: an ultra-sensitive seismometer (SEIS) protected by a wind and thermal shield, and a sophisticated heat flow probe (HP3) that will bury itself into the ground.
The goal of InSight is unique in the history of the exploration of the Red Planet. Until now, the target of almost all the missions launched toward Mars was the rocky surface. But InSight (Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport) have another, amazing goal: the interior of the planet itself, from its external crust to the inner metallic core.
In this project, we propose a fairly faithful replica of the InSight probe, at a scale compatible with Minifigs. The model gives the opportunity to discover the main characteristics of the spacecraft and its payload, and offers a lot of playability:
- The solar panels are tiltable and detachable, which allow to display the probe in flight configuration (solar panels folded) or in landed configuration (solar panels deployed).
- The three feet of the lander are tiltable between 45° and 60°.
- The lower part of the lander shows the multiple antennas of the descent radar (which is used during the landing phase) as well as 3 clusters of 4 retro-rockets.
- The robotic arm (IDA) rotates at 360° around his base, and has two joints. Like the real one, the arm holds a technical camera (IDC), a grapple and a small scoop. The main role of the arm is to deploy the SEIS seismometer (and its thermal and wind shield, the WTS) on the ground, and then release the HP3 heat flow sensor (not too close to the seismometer!). In this replica, the grapple can rotate to maintain its load vertically while the arm is moving.
- The IDA arm can be stored completely on the deck (flight configuration).
- The spacecraft deck offers the space to store the SEIS seismometer or the HP3 thermal sensor, in addition to the WTS shield, during the launch and the cruise phase. The WTS takes place above a micro-barometer (an ultra-sensitive atmospheric pressure sensor) that belongs to the weather station.
- On the ground, the WTS completely covers the SEIS seismometer.
- The SEIS seismometer is connected to the lander by a flexible and removable tether 20 studs long. A second cable is used for the HP3 heat flow probe.
- The mole of HP3 is detachable. A sharp version of the mole is even provided, for more realism.
- Apart the two main instruments of the InSight mission (SEIS and HP3), the lander deck also houses two meteorological masts (TWINS) of the APSS weather station, two medium gain cone-shaped antennas of the RISE geodesy experiment, and the UHF antenna used for radio communication with satellites in Martian orbit (such as the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter).
- A special tiltable tile, engraved with the official logo of the Mission, is used as the calibration target for the IDC camera of the robotic arm.
The current version of the InSight probe has the following dimensions:
- Length: 31 studs; 24.8 cm; 9.76 inch.
- Width: 13 studs; 10.4 cm; 4.09 inch.
- Height: 11 studs; 8.8 cm; 3.46 inch.
In addition to the InSight lander described above, we have added a few accessories (146 additional bricks) that can be used to depict some parts of the ATLO phase (Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations) in clean room environment. Martian probes are often sketched on the surface of Mars, but the terrestrial places where they are assembled and tested are just as fascinating! The accessories include:
- 3 Minifigures in clean room suit.
- 1 rack with 5 tools.
- 1 console equipped with a workstation.
- 1 lifting platform with adjustable height (three positions).
- 1 crane with directional rear wheels.
Finally, the InSight probe comes with a nice display (108 bricks), which reproduces the rusty and flat ground of the zone chosen for the landing on Mars (Elysium Planitia).
The InSight mission is part of the NASA’s Discovery program and has been placed under the responsibility of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The lander is designed and built by Lockheed Martin. Most of the scientific instruments (the payload) are provided by Europeans partners and financed by European national agencies, such as CNES (France) and DLR (Germany).
None of the multiple institutions involved in the InSight mission are associated with this project, that is presented here as a purely individual initiative. However, one of the two contributors (Philippe Labrot) works for the Institute of Earth Physics in Paris (IPGP), a French laboratory that provides the Very Broad Band seismic pendulums (VBB), which are at the heart of the InSight SEIS experimentation.
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