May 5, 2018, the InSight Mars Lander began its journey to Mars atop an Atlas V rocket. Launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California – the first interplanetary launch from the West Coast – InSight embarked on its 301 million mile mission to Mars. InSight’s primary objective is to give Mars its first in depth check up since its formation.
Since launching from the Golden State, InSight has been in its cruise phase to the Red Planet and is scheduled to perform a series of maneuvers to stay on its planned trajectory. Ten days after its launh, InSight is expected to perform a number of trials and tests to ensure it is on the correct flight path.
Over the course of InSight’s seven month journey to Mars, its subsystems and instruments will undergo calibration, testing and adjustments by flight controllers. These calibrations and adjustments will be crucial to the mission’s flight trajectory. Without these corrections, InSight would bypass Mars by hundreds of thousands of miles. Flight controllers are expected to adjust the attitude of InSight’s solar arrays and antennas. Six corrections will be made with two opportunities for backup maneuvers during the seven month journey.
Currently in its cruise phase, the Martian lander is tucked away in a protective aeroshell. As it cruises, InSight will be fine-tuning its path as it prepares to enter the Martian atmosphere in approximately six months.
Some of the key activities during the cruise phase include:
- Health checks and maintenance of the spacecraft in its cruise configuration.
- Monitoring and calibration of the spacecraft and subsystems.
- Attitude correction turns (adjusts) to maintain the antenna pointing toward Earth for communications and to keep the solar panels pointed toward the Sun for power).
- Navigation activities, including trajectory correction maneuvers, to keep track of InSight’s position and precisely control it prior to approach.
- Preparation for entry, descent, and landing and surface operations, including communication tests used during entry, descent, and landing.
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- Cruise – NASA’s InSight Mars Lander