InSight’s Landing Site: Elysium Planitia

The landing sites of NASA’s landers and rovers on Mars, including the upcoming InSight mission. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

February 23, 2018 – Elysium Planitia, a flat-smooth plain just north of the Mars equator is the perfect location from which to study the Red Planet’s interior. It has been chosen as the landing site for the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission.

Elysium Planitia was selected from 22 candidates, and is centered at about 4.5 degrees north latitude and 135.9 degrees east longitude; about 373 miles (600 kilometers) from Curiosity’s landing site, Gale Crater.

The InSight mission will complement other Mars missions. The lander’s science instruments will look for tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on Mars, study how much heat is still flowing through the planet, and track the planet’s wobble as it orbits the sun. This will helps answer key questions about how the rocky planets of the solar system formed.

InSight’s scientific success and safe landing depend on landing in a relatively flat area, with an elevation low enough to have sufficient atmosphere above the site for a safe landing. It also depends on landing in an area where rocks are few in number. Elysium Planitia has the right surface for the instruments to be able to probe the deep interior, and its proximity to the equator ensures that the solar-powered lander is exposed to plenty of sunlight.

InSight is scheduled to launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-401 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The launch window opens on May 5 and remains open through June 8, 2018. InSight will land on Mars on November 26, 2018.

InSight surface operations will begin a minute after landing, with the prime mission lasting one Mars year (approximately two Earth years).

JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the InSight Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado, built the spacecraft. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The Atlas V-401 rocket is provided by United Alliance, Centennial Colorado, a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.