NASA’s Insight (internal exploration using seismic surveys, geodesy and heat transfer) Mars lander will continue to keep its seismometer functional, although it will cause the mission to run out of power sooner than the space agency previously planned. The power available to the lander decreases over time. Still, the spacecraft’s team has revised the mission’s schedule to allow more time for science observations. The seismometer is the last operational science instrument on the lander. It was previously scheduled to close automatically at the end of June. The previous decision was to preserve any energy collected from the solar panels until December.
In the revised decision, the team hopes the seismometer will be operational until late August or mid-September. The decision will help scientists gather information by studying more earthquakes. However, it would discharge the lander’s batteries more quickly and would also cause the spacecraft to run out of power.
According to Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington, “InSight isn’t finished teaching us about Mars. We’ll do everything we can to get all the scientific information we can before the lander completes its operations.”
Since the lander touched down on Mars in 2018, the lander has detected more than 1,300 Martian earthquakes. Information from these Martian earthquakes allows scientists to measure the depth and composition of the Martian crust, mantle and core. In addition to the seismometer, the lander has other instruments. To date, InSight has recorded weather data, examined Earth’s soil, and studied remnants of Mars’ magnetic field.
All of the other instruments that made these studies possible have been shut down. Like other Mars spacecraft, InSight has a built-in failsafe system. In the event of a threat, the system triggers a “safe mode” that allows only the most important functions to be activated. But to keep the seismometers working, the InSight team is shutting down the failsafe system.