NASA has shared the very first image that the InSight mission has sent back to Earth after touching down yesterday. This image shows InSight sitting on the surface of the Red Planet, soaking up some sun. The craft has sent signals back to Earth that indicate its solar panels are open and collecting sunlight.
Those first signals were relayed to Earth by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and were received on Earth at 5:30 pm PST yesterday. Odyssey later sent a pair of images to Earth from InSight that showed its landing site. Currently, the batteries Insight uses for operations are charging. Surface operations are scheduled to begin today along with the instrument deployment phase of the mission.
InSight gathers energy from the sun via twin 7-foot wide solar arrays. NASA says that when these arrays are open, the lander is about the size of a large convertible car from the 1960s. Those solar panels can provide 600 to 700 watts of power on a clear day, roughly enough juice to power a household blender. The giant solar panels are expected to produce 200 to 300 watts of power even when covered in dust.
NASA modeled the solar panels InSight uses on the panels used by the Phoenix Mars Lander. For InSight, the panels are larger to increase power output and increase structural strength. NASA says the increase in size and power is needed to support InSight operations for a full Mars year, which is two Earth years.
Lots will be going on with InSight in the coming days including unstowing its robotic arm and using the attached camera to take photos of the ground to allow mission operators to determine where to place the scientific instruments. It will be two to three months before the instruments are fully deployed and sending back data. Insight is currently using weather sensors and its magnetometer to take readings of its Elysium Planitia landing site.