Communications and Tectonic Package Sent to Mars
In case you missed it, Saturday NASA launched the InSight mission to Mars, scheduled to arrive November of this year. The science package contains a seismometer to determine if the fourth planet from the sun is still alive geologically. We know it was once by the volcanoes left behind, the largest being the 25 kilometer tall Olympus Mons. In addition to listening for a heartbeat, InSight will also drill fifteen feet into the soil and measure temperature and temperature gradient, providing a starting point for estimating temperatures much deeper inside the red planet. In addition, the science package will deploy two radio antennas with the purpose of determining how much the internal workings of the planet cause it to wobble.
But what is very cool is the pair of very small (14 inch x 9 inch x 4 inch), inexpensive – relatively speaking ($11 million) communications satellites that are transmitting along the way. CubeSats use commercial parts and are meant to improve accessibility to space by reducing the cost. If the satellites survive the trip, it will prove that lower cost alternatives for future trips to the planet are viable.