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NASA’s InSight “mole” is out of sight

Now that the heat probe is just below the Martian surface, InSight’s arm will gather some additional soil to help it continue digging so it can measure Mars’ temperature.

NASA’s InSight lander continues to work to obtain its “mole”
– a 16-inch (40cm long) post driver and a heat probe – deep
the surface of Mars. A camera on InSight’s arm recently took pictures of the now
Partially filled “mole hole”, showing only the science of the device
cable protruding from the ground.

The sensors built into the cable are designed to measure
heat flowing from the planet once the mole has dug at least 1

0 feet (3 meters)
deep. The mission team at least worked to help the mole dig
that depth so that it can take the temperature of Mars.

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

InSight practices scraping

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-hammering thermal probe – appears when 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

›Enlarged view

After the mole unexpectedly backed out of the pit
hammering last year, the team placed the small scoop at the end of the lander
robotic arm on it to keep it in the ground. Now that the mole is completely
embedded in the ground, they will use the shovel to scrape more soil on top
of it, compressing this ground to help provide more friction. Because it will
take months to pack enough soil, the mole is not expected to start hammering again
until early 2021.

“I am very happy that we were able to recover from
unexpected “pop-out” event that we experienced and get the mole deeper than it is
never been, “said Troy Hudson, the NASA Jet scientist and engineer
Propulsion Laboratory which led the work to obtain the excavation of the mole. “But we are
not quite done. We want to make sure there is enough soil above the mole
allow him to dig on his own without the assistance of his arm. “

The mole is formally called heat and physical flux
Property package or HP3, and was built and supplied to NASA by
the German Space Agency (DLR). JPL in Southern California leads the InSight
mission. Learn more about the mole’s recent advances in this DLR blog.

More information on

JPL manages InSight for NASA
Direction of the scientific mission. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program,
operated by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Lockheed Martin Space of Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including his own
cruise and lander stage and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners,
including the Center National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) of France and the German
Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES provided the
SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure) tool at NASA, with principal investigator at
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 Oxford University in the United States
Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties (HP3) instrument, with signifier
contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of
Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) in Spain
provided the temperature and wind sensors.

Media contact

Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Alana Johnson / Gray Hautaluoma
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-672-4780 / 202-358-0668
alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov / grey.hautaluoma-1@nasa.gov


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