Mars Insight Heat Probe Detective Work Continues

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May 18, 2019 | Originally published by Date Line: May 18 on

HOUSTON—Experts from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have not given up on efforts to fully deploy the Mars InSight lander’s subsurface thermal probe, which has been stalled at a depth of 30 cm (12 in.), far from its goal of 5 m since late February.                                                                       

NASA’s $1 billion, two-year InSight mission to carry out the first-ever science assessments of the red planet’s crust, mantle and core touched down successfully at Elysium Planitia on Nov. 26, 2018, just more than 6 1/2 months after launching on May 5, 2018, from Vandenberg AFB, California.

Efforts to unravel the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) stall are currently focused on attempting to replicate conditions with Martian soil simulants at DLR, which contributed the instrument, and at JPL, which oversees mission operations, according to Pascale Ehrenfreund, who chairs the Bremen-based German aerospace facility’s executive board.

The Austrian astrophysicist and George Washington University professor briefed the April 14 opening day session of the 2019  Humans to Mars Summit underway this week at the National Academies of Sciences in Washington. She expressed optimism that HP3 instrument operations will be able to resume after more detective work.