Swiss electronics to help NASA Mars probe

Solar arrays designed and manufactured by Orbital ATK-Goleta

As Shannon Stirone reports for Popular Science, researchers have actually sent more than 21 different spacecraft to study the planet.

Skygazers in central and southern California, as well as those watching from Mexico's northern Pacific Coast, may be able to see InSight launch toward Mars, weather permitting, NASA officials have said. The two-hour launch window will open on May 5 at 4:05 a.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT).

Besides testing the cubes' maneuvering system, NASA wants to see if WALL-E and EVE can transmit data to Earth from InSight during its descent to Mars. They won't stop at Mars, just fly past. She's on the global scientific team set to dig a borehole up to five metres into the red planet's crust.

If all goes to plan, InSight should land on November 26, at Elysium Planitia, a flat expanse on the planet. "We picked something as close to a 100 kilometer-long parking lot as we could find anywhere", Banerdt tells Chang.

Technicians inspect InSight instruments.

What Can This Nifty Lander Do? The point is to test the two CubeSats as a potential communication link with InSight as it descends to the planet. Curiosity continues to operate on Mars, where it studies the minerals that cover the plant's surface.

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The NASA probe will carry a seismic measuring instrument built under the lead of France together with Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the US. One InSight instrument will dig 5 meters (16 feet) into the subsurface to measure heat from the interior.

The lander will also deploy a super sensitive seismometer that can monitor tiny tremors of the planet's surface or "marsquakes". In particular, CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, with significant contributions from the Max Planck Institute for Solar Systems Research (MPS).

Like earthquakes, marsquakes are vibrations of the ground.

"It's important to know where quakes occur and how often they occur", said Johnson. Many of these will have a magnitude of 6.0. Meteoroid strikes may play a role in additional quakes, writes Katarina Miljkovic, planetary scientist at Curtin University and a collaborator to the InSight mission, for The Conversation. When a quake travels through a material, its vibration changes.

And though the mission is long in the making - initially announced about six years ago - according to a mission scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory its origins are even older. Tanks with samples of Martian rocks is scheduled to leave in certain places in order that subsequently they can deliver on the Ground for future automatic spacecraft. The lander is also carrying radio antennas that will help scientists estimate the size of Mars' core.

InSight's launch will feature the first ever rocket to blast off from Vandenberg towards another world.

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