With the excitement surrounding Curiosity starting to recede a little, NASA has announced that it has selected a new Discovery mission for 2016. Named InSight, this new mission will look to give us a better understanding of the formation of terrestrial planets by cracking the surface of Mars. Two of the things NASA scientists hope to discover through InSight is whether Mars has a solid or liquid core, and why it doesn’t have tectonic plates like we have here on Earth.
Finding the answers to these questions will help scientists better understand the differences between Earth and Mars, which in turn will provide a better understanding of how terrestrial planets evolve. In order to be selected at the 12th mission in the Discovery Program, InSight had to beat out 27 other proposed missions. After asking for proposals in June 2010, NASA had narrowed it down to just three by May 2011: InSight, a mission to a comet in our solar system, and a mission to Saturn’s moon Titan. These three missions were given funding for “preliminary design studies and analyses” with InSight eventually coming out on top.
The mission will be led by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s W. Bruce Banerdt, but the US isn’t going it alone on this mission to Mars. The international community will play an integral role in the success of InSight, with the German Aerospace Center and France’s Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) each providing special instruments for the mission. CNES is working with an international consortium to contruct a tool for measuring seismic waves under the planet’s surface, while the German Aerospace Center will be including a tool for measuring heat flow from the interior of the planet. An “onboard geodetic instrument” is coming from JPL, which will determine the planet’s rotation axis, as are two cameras and a robotic arm used for monitoring and deploying the instruments InSight will use.
InSight has a budget that’s capped at $425 million in 2010 dollars, but those who proposed InSight have already proven that the mission can stay under its budget cap. InSight is scheduled to land on the surface of Mars in September 2016, carrying out its two-year mission afterward. This all leads up to an eventual manned mission to the red planet, so it’s easy to see why NASA scientists are so interested in Mars when we’ve got an entire solar system to explore. Stay tuned for more information on InSight, and be sure to check out our story timeline below for a line-up of posts on NASA’s Curiosity!