NASA’s InSight Mars lander acquired this image on February 20, 2019, Sol 83, using its lander-mounted, Instrument Context Camera (ICC).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



The NASA InSight Mars landing site is a busy place.

The German-supplied Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) is at the end of its deployment phase. A camera on InSight’s robotic arm has been inspecting the placement of HP3 and its engineering tether – the cable running to the lander.

Upcoming is the firing of the frangibolts that will release the“mole” It weighs a little over 6.5 pounds (about 3 kilograms) and will hammer itself under the surface of Mars.

Components of the HP3 heat flow probe. Top left: the radiometer (RAD), which is used to measure the radiation temperature (roughly equivalent to the ground temperature) of the surface. Right: the casing with the mole penetrometer, the temperature measuring cable (TEM-P) and the data cable (ET) connected to the lander. In addition, the casing contains an optical length meter for determining the length of the temperature measuring cable that has been pulled from the casing. The mole contains the TEM-A active thermal conductivity sensor and the STATIL tiltmeter. Bottom left: the electronic control unit, known as the back end electronics (BEE), which remains on the lander and is connected to the probe via the ET.
Credit: DLR.

Mole command

If successfully released, the mole will be commanded to begin hammering next Tuesday, reports principal investigator Tilman Spohn from the German Aerospace Center’s  (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin.

“This will be the moment we all look forward to, the first 70 centimeter depth on Mars for the mole! Although we have tested the mole extensively and diligently, there remains an uncertainty,” Spohn adds. This has never been done before on Mars or on another terrestrial planet.

“Sure, the Apollo astronauts have drilled to about 3 meters on the Moon. But theirs was not a robotic mission,”Spohn says.

Credit: NASA/JPL

Taking the temperature

HP3 is designed to burrow down beneath the Red Planet’s topside — with its tether embedded with heat sensors — to a depth of 16 feet (five meters). The HP3 is slated to plow deeper than any previous arms, scoops, drills or probes before it.

InSight Sol 85 image taken by robotic arm-mounted, Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC). Image shows HP3 and its tether, acquired on February 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

HP3 can take Mars’ temperature to reveal how much heat is still flowing out of the interior of the planet.

The DLR HP3 heat flow probe has the mole pulling a ribbon cable equipped with 14 temperature sensors behind it. Once the probe has reached its target depth, the temperature will be measured by all of the sensors every 15 minutes for several months.

HP³ is now in a stable position approximately 5 feet (1.5 meters) from the lander and the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and HP³ are roughly 3 feet (one meter) apart.

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