Home / Science / At the end! NASA’s InSight “Mole” is out of sight, beneath the surface of Mars

At the end! NASA’s InSight “Mole” is out of sight, beneath the surface of Mars

NASA's InSight robotic arm

NASA’s InSight withdrew its robotic arm on October 3, 2020, revealing where the spike-shaped “mole” is trying to burrow in Mars. The copper-colored tape attached to the mole has sensors to measure the planet’s heat flux. Over the next few months, the arm will scrape and compress the soil above the mole to help it dig. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Now that the heat probe is just below the Martian surface, InSight̵

7;s arm will collect more soil on top to help it continue digging so it can catch Mars‘ temperature.

NASAThe InSight lander continues to work to get its “mole” – a 16-inch (40 centimeter) long pile driver and thermal probe – deep beneath the surface of Mars. A camera on InSight’s arm recently captured images of the now partially filled “mole hole”, showing only the device’s scientific cable protruding from the ground.

The sensors embedded in the cable are designed to measure the heat flowing from the planet once the mole has dug at least 10 feet (3 meters) deep. The mission team worked to help the mole dig to at least that depth so it can measure the temperature of Mars.

The mole was designed so that loose soil flows around it, providing friction against the outer hull so that it can dig deeper; without this friction, the mole bounces in place as it hammers the ground. But the ground that InSight landed on is different from what previous missions have encountered: during hammering, the ground sticks together, forming a small pit around the device instead of collapsing around it and providing the necessary friction.

Replica Insight Arm Scraping Soil

This August 19, 2019 footage shows an InSight replica scraping the ground with a scoop on the end of its robotic arm in a test lab at JPL. A replica of the “mole” – the lander’s self-locking thermal probe – is displayed as the vane moves to the left. On Mars, InSight will scrape and compress the soil above the mole to help it dig. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

After the mole came out of the pit unexpectedly while hammering last year, the team placed the small shovel at the end of the lander’s robotic arm above it to keep it in the ground. Now that the mole is fully embedded in the ground, they will use the shovel to scrape more soil above it, compressing this soil to help provide more friction. Since it will take months to compress enough soil, the mole is not expected to resume hammering until early 2021.

“I am very happy that we were able to recover from the unexpected ‘pop-out’ event we experienced and take the mole deeper than it has ever been,” said Troy Hudson, the Jet scientist and engineer. NASA’s Propulsion Laboratory who led the work to have the mole excavated. “But we’re not done yet. We want to make sure there is enough ground above the mole to allow it to dig on its own without any assistance from the arm.”

The mole is formally called the heat flow and physical properties package, or HP3, and was built and supplied to NASA by the German Space Agency (DLR). JPL in Southern California he leads the InSight mission. Read more about the recent progress of the mole in this DLR blog.

Learn more about the mission

JPL manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, run by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Denver’s Lockheed Martin Space built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

Several European partners, including France’s Center National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) tool to NASA, with the principal investigator of the IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London and the University of Oxford in the UK; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties (HP3) tool, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. The Spanish Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the temperature and wind sensors.

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