InSight's primary objective is to uncover how a rocky body forms and evolves to become a planet by studying the size, thickness, density and overall structure of the Red Planet's core, mantle and crust, as well as the rate at which heat escapes from the planet's interior. Generally, a rocky body begins its formation through a process called accretion. As the body increases in size, its interior heats up and melts. As it subsequently cools and recrystallizes it evolves into what we know today as a terrestrial planet, containing a core, mantle and crust. While all of the terrestrial planets share similar structures and their bulk compositions are roughly the same as the meteoritic material from which they were formed, they are by no means uniform. Each of the terrestrial planets reached their current formation and structure through a process known as differentiation, which is poorly understood. InSight's goal is to solve the mystery of differentiation in planetary formation - and to bridge the gap of understanding that lies between accretion, and the final formation of a terrestrial planet's core, mantle, and crust.
The mission's secondary objective is to conduct an in-depth study of tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on Mars, both of which could provide valuable knowledge about such processes on Earth.
To achieve each of these objectives, InSight will conduct six investigations on and below the surface of Mars to uncover the evolutionary history that shaped all of the rocky planets in the inner solar system. These investigations will:
- Determine the size, composition, physical state (liquid/solid) of the Martian core
- Determine the thickness and structure of the Martian crust
- Determine the composition and structure of the Martian mantle
- Determine the thermal state of Mars' interior
- Measure the magnitude, rate and geographical distribution of Mars' internal seismic activity
- Measure the rate of meteorite impacts on the surface of Mars
The InSight mission will follow the legacy of NASA's Mars Phoenix mission and send a lander to Mars, which will delve deeper into the surface than any other spacecraft - to investigate the planet's structure and composition as well as its tectonic activity as it relates to all terrestrial planets, including Earth.
InSight key dates:
- Launch: May 2018 (to be confirmed)
- Landing: December 2018 (to be confirmed)
- Surface operations: 720 days / 700 sols
- First science return: 2019
- Instrument deployment: 60 sols (including 20 sols margin)
- Data volume over one Martian year: More than 29 Gb (processed seismic data posted to the Web in two weeks; remaining science data less than three months, no proprietary period)
- End of Mission: 2020