The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has begun tests on the Mars Lander that will ultimately lead to a launch in March 2016 and a landing on Mars six months later.
Called the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight), it is about the size of a car and will be the first mission devoted to the exploration of 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.
During the environmental testing phase at Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems facility near Denver, Colorado, 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.
Other tests include vibrations simulating launch and checking for electronic interference between parts of the spacecraft.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be leading the mission with contributions from The Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales, France’s space agency, and the German Aerospace Center. They will be providing science instruments for the two-year 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.
In other action to prepare for the Mars mission, NASA is working with eight U.S. universities on new technology projects for deep space exploration,
including the journey to Mars, as part of the 2016 X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge.
Led by NASA and the National Space Grant Foundation, the challenge include teams designing systems, concepts and technologies that will help improve NASA’s exploration capabilities and provide undergraduate and graduate students with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in technology development.
The teams are encouraged to use multidisciplinary approaches, partner with experts and industry and engage in outreach. The experience is designed to enhance the science, technical, leadership and project skills for the selected student teams and encourage studies to pursue spaceflight-related disciplines.
Student teams submitted proposals earlier this year. Their selection kicks off a year-long process covering the 2015-2016 academic year. Project teams will meet a series of milestones to design, manufacture, assemble and test their systems and concepts in close cooperation with members of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. NASA staff from the directorate’s Space Life and Physical Sciences and AES divisions will work with students in areas including additive manufacturing, advanced life support systems, space habitation and systems for food production in space.
The X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge 2016 teams and projects are:
- AES In-space Manufacturing. University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, Puerto Rico – Technology Development of Low-Power Required Manufacturing of Metals for the Zero-Gravity Environment.
- AES Beyond Earth Habitation. University of Maryland, College Park, MD – Inflatable/Deployable Airlock Structures; Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York – Human Centered-Designs for Mars Transit Habitat; Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma – Deep Space Mars Transit Habitat Layout Studies.
- AES Life Support Systems. University of South Alabama, Mobile, Alabama – Development of a Concentration Swing Frequency Response Device.
- Space Life and Physical Sciences. Utah State University, Logan, Utah – Student Experimental Microgravity Plant System; Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio – Performance characterization and Enhancement of the Mars OASIS Space Plant Growth System.
The National Space Grant Foundation will administer the grants, which range from $10,000 to $30,000 to the universities on behalf of NASA to fund the design, development and evaluation of the projects.