In November 2014, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta project successfully landed a rover on a comet after more than two decades of research. The mission’s success thrilled millions around the world, which has seen less emphasis on space exploration as nations like the United States have tried to trim their budgets by decreasing aerospace investments. For this reason, it is exciting to learn that the Rosetta project is only the most recent mission to help expand our knowledge of the solar system: reports show that NASA is currently preparing for a March 2016 excursion to Mars.
Called the Insight Mission, which stands for “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, the project’s team describes their work as more than your average trip to Mars: they are building a terrestrial planet explorer that seeks to understand how rocky planets, like Mars and Earth, were formed by measuring planetary heat and weather conditions. The planet explorer was also designed using proven technology from previous space missions and in conjunction with a number of other space research institutes around the world, making it highly unique.
Despite this news, however, the mission is still far from completion: the lander, its aeroshell, and its cruise stage are currently being assembled at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems research center in Denver. For the next six months, the team reports that it will integrate the existing components before adding a variety of subsystems, including avionics, power, telecommunications, mechanisms, thermal and navigation systems. Once the planet explorer is assembled, it will then be subjected to vigorous tests, including high leak testing standards, to ensure that the mission will not go awry.
This stage of the mission is known as the ATLO phase, or “assembly, test and launch operations” stage, and follows several months of technicians designing and assembling individual components of the craft. And although this phase of the mission is an important milestone, it foretells a significant amount of effort still to come. The different tests, especially the leak testing procedures, will require a lot of attention to detail to meet NASA’s high leak testing standards; for this reason, they will almost certainly need advanced leak detection services and equipment to properly analyze their technology. However, if these leak testing standards and other stipulations are met, the Insight Mission offers an exciting opportunity for NASA and the rest of the world to uncover important information on the formation of our planet and the development of the solar system. Is it too early to start counting down the days until March 2016?