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“Mole” InSight is now completely buried!



It’s been a long road for InSight’s Mole. InSight landed on Mars almost two years ago, in November 2018. While other landing gear is working properly and returning scientific data, Crete is trying to break through to the surface of the planet.

After much hard work and a lot of patience, Crete finally managed to hide until the Marian regolith.

But the drama is not over.

A mole is a 16-inch heat probe that is driven deep into the surface. Its maximum depth is 5 meters (16 feet) below the surface, and it is an ideal working depth. But it can also collect useful scientific data at a shallower depth of about 3 meters (10 feet). As now, the birthmark is nowhere deep enough to engage in any science.

But two years later, it̵

7;s still the deepest thing that ever happened.

The real name of a mole is a package of heat fluxes and physical properties, or HP3. It is designed to measure the heat coming from the interior of Mars. The belt that connects it to the InSight lowering machine contains heat sensors along its entire length. InSight means “Internal Research” using seismic surveys, surveying and heat transport. The heat transport part of the mission is the work of a mole.

He has been facing problems since the tool was deployed. The mole penetrates, slowly clogging the ground. But this shock movement depends on the friction between the mole and the sides of its hole. Without this friction, the device simply bounces back through the hole.

The InSight heat probe (HP3) popped out of the hole shortly after deployment.  Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
The InSight heat probe (HP3) popped out of the hole shortly after deployment. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The problem is what is called a solid. This is a hardened surface layer that forms in arid areas. And Mars is definitely arid. The hard layer around the mole prevents soil from entering the hole of the mole when it clogs, and deprives the device of the necessary friction to clog the path to Mars.

Although InSight is primarily a NASA mission, Mole was designed and built by the DLR (German Aerospace Center). They are working with NASA’s JPL, which has an engineering version of the Mole on a test bench. It was there that they tried to overcome these challenges.

They tried to use a scoop at the end of the InSight lever to press the Mole to the side, hoping to provide the necessary friction. They also tried to press on the Mole, while carefully avoiding the sensitive rope. And they tried to scoop up the loose material with a shovel and put it in the hole of the Mole.

The scoop on the InSight hand puts pressure on the Mole.  Image credit: NASA / DLR
The scoop on the InSight hand puts pressure on the Mole. Image credit: NASA / DLR

Today, NASA announced that Crete is finally completely buried in the mud. This is a kind of victory, but still a long way to go. Now that he is buried, the InSight team will continue to dig more soil on top of the device and compact it before resuming clogging.

But all this takes time.

“I’m so glad we were able to recover from the unexpected ‘pop-up’ we’ve been through and deepen the mole deeper than ever,” said Troy Hudson, a NASA jet lab scientist and engineer who led the work. dig a mole. “It simply came to our notice then. We want to make sure that there is enough soil on top of the mole so that it can dig on its own without any outside help, ”Hudson said in a press release.

Soil scooping and compaction will take months. NASA says it is unlikely that hammer work will resume by January 2021. The part that hinders the operation is the accumulation of dust on the InSight solar panels. This reduces the power available to the entire mission.

One of Mars InSight's two 7-foot (2.2-meter) solar panels was captured by a device deployment camera mounted on the elbow of a robotic arm.  The accumulation of dust on the panels reduced the power available to the mission.  Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech
One of Mars InSight’s two 7-foot (2.2-meter) solar panels was captured by a device deployment camera mounted on the elbow of a robotic arm. The accumulation of dust on the panels reduced the power available to the mission. Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Tillman Spon is the research supervisor of Crete at DLR. He writes a diary about efforts to get a mole to work. In today’s post on October 16, 2020, Spon talked about the next steps and how they are working on the next “Free Mole Test” The free mole test is when they allow a mole to try to make its way under the surface without the help of a scoop.

“After discussing the next steps, we decided that two parallel scoop movements (Sol 659) should be held on Saturday, October 17,” he wrote.

The mole is now buried under the Martian surface, but it has not yet cleared all its obstacles.  On October 17, the scoop of the device will make two parallel movements to place more soil above the mole.  Image credit: NASA / DLR
The mole is now buried under the Martian surface, but it has not yet cleared all its obstacles. On October 17, the scoop of the device will make two parallel movements to place more soil above the mole. Image credit: NASA / DLR

“Then the thermal conductivity will be measured, which should also give us indirect instructions on backfilling,” Spon writes. “Then the filling will be pressed to compress the sand and press on the Mole. Depending on the result of backfilling, further actions will be planned to fill the pit before further clogging, and later another test for free moles will take place. “

On Earth, it would be easy to use a drill to penetrate the surface. But drills are heavy, require a lot of power and need stability so as not to twist rather than drill. This is simply impossible on Mars. A drill would weigh too much and require much more energy than a mole. The mole is only 1 inch (2.7 centimeters) in diameter and about 16 inches (40 centimeters) in length. It had to be both light enough and small enough to meet the limitations of the mission.

Let’s hope that the mole will eventually reach working depth. Meanwhile, other InSight tools function and return data. Thanks to SEIS (seismic experiment for internal structure), we know that Mars is a seismically active planet.

But without a birthmark and heat transfer, the InSight will never fulfill its mission.

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