Lockheed Martin Begins Testing Mars Lander For Next Mission To Red Planet

The solar arrays on NASA's InSight lander are deployed in this test inside a clean room at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver. This configuration is how the spacecraft will look on the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

The solar arrays on NASA’s InSight lander are deployed in this test inside a clean room at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver. This configuration is how the spacecraft will look on the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

May 27, 2015 – Testing is underway on NASA’s next mission on the journey to Mars, a stationary lander scheduled to launch in March 2016. During the environmental testing phase at Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems facility near Denver, the lander will be exposed to extreme temperatures, vacuum conditions of nearly zero air pressure simulating interplanetary space, and a battery of other tests over the next seven months.

The lander is called InSight, an abbreviation for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. It is about the size of a car and will be the first mission devoted to understanding the interior structure of the Red Planet. Examining the planet’s deep interior could reveal clues about how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved.

The current testing will help ensure InSight can operate in and survive deep space travel and the harsh conditions of the Martian surface.

“The assembly of InSight went very well and now it’s time to see how it performs,” said Stu Spath, InSight program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver. “The environmental testing regimen is designed to wring out any issues with the spacecraft so we can resolve them while it’s here on Earth. This phase takes nearly as long as assembly, but we want to make sure we deliver a vehicle to NASA that will perform as expected in extreme environments.”

The spacecraft will lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and land on Mars about six months later.

The technical capabilities and knowledge gained from Insight, and other Mars missions, are crucial to NASA’s journey to Mars, which includes sending astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s.

“Today, our robotic scientific explorers are paving the way, making great progress on the journey to Mars,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Together, humans and robotics will pioneer Mars and the solar system.”

The first test will be a thermal vacuum test in the spacecraft’s “cruise” configuration, which will be used during its seven-month journey to Mars. In the cruise configuration, the lander is stowed inside an aeroshell capsule and the spacecraft’s cruise stage – for power, communications, course corrections and other functions on the way to Mars — is fastened to the capsule.

Other tests include vibrations simulating launch and checking for electronic interference between different parts of the spacecraft. The testing phase concludes with a second thermal vacuum test in which the spacecraft is exposed to the temperatures and atmospheric pressures it will experience as it operates on the Martian surface.

The mission’s science team includes U.S. and international co-investigators from universities, industry and government agencies.

“It’s great to see the spacecraft put together in its launch configuration,” said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “Many teams from across the globe have worked long hours to get their elements of the system delivered for these tests. There still remains much work to do before we are ready for launch, but it is fantastic to get to this critical milestone.”

The InSight mission is led by JPL’s Bruce Banerdt. The Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales, France’s space agency, and the German Aerospace Center are each contributing a science instrument to the two-year scientific mission. InSight’s international science team includes researchers from Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company built the lander.

The Mars lander that NASA's InSight mission will use for investigating how rocky planets formed and evolved is being assembled by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver. In this scene from January 2015, Lockheed Martin spacecraft specialists are working on the lander in a clean room. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

The Mars lander that NASA’s InSight mission will use for investigating how rocky planets formed and evolved is being assembled by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver. In this scene from January 2015, Lockheed Martin spacecraft specialists are working on the lander in a clean room. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

Spacecraft specialists in a clean room at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, are working on NASA's InSight spacecraft in this January 2015 scene from the mission's assembly and testing phase. At center is the cruise stage, which will serve multiple functions during the flight from Earth to Mars. In the background is the InSight lander. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

Spacecraft specialists in a clean room at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, are working on NASA’s InSight spacecraft in this January 2015 scene from the mission’s assembly and testing phase. At center is the cruise stage, which will serve multiple functions during the flight from Earth to Mars. In the background is the InSight lander. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

In this February 2015 scene from a clean room at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, specialists are building the heat shield to protect NASA's InSight spacecraft when it is speeding through the Martian atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

In this February 2015 scene from a clean room at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, specialists are building the heat shield to protect NASA’s InSight spacecraft when it is speeding through the Martian atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

This parachute testing for NASA's InSight mission to Mars was conducted inside the world's largest wind tunnel, at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, in February 2015. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin.

This parachute testing for NASA’s InSight mission to Mars was conducted inside the world’s largest wind tunnel, at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, in February 2015. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin.

Engineers and technicians at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, run a test of deploying the solar arrays on NASA's InSight lander in this April 30, 2015 image. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

Engineers and technicians at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, run a test of deploying the solar arrays on NASA’s InSight lander in this April 30, 2015 image. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

Spacecraft specialists at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, are preparing to attach the cruise stage of NASA's InSight spacecraft to the top of the spacecraft's back shell in this April 29, 2015, photo. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

Spacecraft specialists at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, are preparing to attach the cruise stage of NASA’s InSight spacecraft to the top of the spacecraft’s back shell in this April 29, 2015, photo. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

In this photo, the back shell of NASA's InSight spacecraft is being lowered onto the mission's lander, which is folded into its stowed configuration. The back shell and a heat shield form the aeroshell, which will protect the lander as the spacecraft plunges into the upper atmosphere of Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

In this photo, the back shell of NASA’s InSight spacecraft is being lowered onto the mission’s lander, which is folded into its stowed configuration. The back shell and a heat shield form the aeroshell, which will protect the lander as the spacecraft plunges into the upper atmosphere of Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

This photo shows the upper side of the cruise stage of NASA's InSight spacecraft as specialists at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, attach it to the spacecraft's back shell. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

This photo shows the upper side of the cruise stage of NASA’s InSight spacecraft as specialists at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, attach it to the spacecraft’s back shell. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

In this photo, spacecraft specialists at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, are reaching up to guide lowering of the parachute cone for installation onto NASA's InSight spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

In this photo, spacecraft specialists at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, are reaching up to guide lowering of the parachute cone for installation onto NASA’s InSight spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

The science deck of NASA's InSight lander is being turned over in this April 29, 2015, photo from InSight assembly and testing operations inside a clean room at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver. The large circular component on the deck is the protective covering to be placed over InSight's seismometer after the seismometer is placed directly onto the Martian ground. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

The science deck of NASA’s InSight lander is being turned over in this April 29, 2015, photo from InSight assembly and testing operations inside a clean room at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver. The large circular component on the deck is the protective covering to be placed over InSight’s seismometer after the seismometer is placed directly onto the Martian ground. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin