NASA unveils InSight mission to study Mars's formation

NASA unveils InSight mission to study Mars's formation

Summary: Scheduled for 2016, the Discovery-class mission will involve putting instruments on the Martian surface to work out whether its core is solid or liquid, and why it doesn't have shifting tectonic plates like Earth does


The Curiosity rover may have only just begun its task of trying to find signs of habitability on Mars, but NASA has already unveiled another mission to the Red Planet.

In 2016 the US space agency will launch InSight, a relatively low-cost Discovery-class mission that will involve putting instruments on the Martian surface to find out whether the planet's core is solid or liquid. NASA is also keen to figure out why Mars's surface does not appear to have drifting tectonic plates, like Earth's.

Mars landscape
NASA's InSight mission will study Mars's formation. Image credit: NASA

Ultimately, NASA is trying to learn more about how rocky planets form.

"The recent successful landing of the Curiosity rover has galvanised public interest in space exploration and today's announcement makes clear there are more exciting Mars missions to come," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement on Monday.

"The exploration of Mars is a top priority for NASA, and the selection of InSight ensures we will continue to unlock the mysteries of the Red Planet and lay the groundwork for a future human mission there," Bolden added.

InSight will, NASA said, cost no more than $425m (£270m) in 2010 dollars. Discovery missions are intended to be frequent and relatively thrifty — there have been almost a dozen of them in the last 20 years and, by way of comparison, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission that put Curiosity on Mars cost around $2.5bn.

NASA says InSight will be largely built on the same spacecraft technology as that used for the Phoenix lander in 2008.

As with MSL and other space missions, NASA will be working with academia and industry on the InSight mission. The mission will be led by W Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), but the team will also take in scientists from around the world.

The space agencies of both France and Germany will be contributing instruments to InSight, which is scheduled to land on Mars in September 2016.

France's Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) will provide an instrument for measuring seismic waves travelling through the Martian interior. The German Aerospace Center will contribute a subsurface heat probe.

The JPL itself will provide an onboard geodetic instrument for working out Mars's rotation axis, and a robotic arm with cameras for deploying and monitoring all the other instruments.

Topics: Nasa / Space, Emerging Tech

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • Why Mars doesn't have plate tectonics
    • Re: Why Mars doesn't have plate tectonics

      Turns out it DOES have plate tectonics after all. The Valles Marineris shows evidence of quite large plate movements.
  • Why Mars doesn't have plate tectonics
  • Sticker shock is gone

    I guess I'm the only person left who thinks a half a billion dollars is a lot of money. I'm weary of people using the word "just" when spending public funds. I love the space program and am fascinated with science, but if someone were to ask the average person on the street (the ones footing the bill for all these "just $425 m" projects) if they would prefer having the money to spend on groceries or rent, I feel pretty confident I know what their answer would be.
    • Spending on Science

      dsuden, yes it costs money for this, but lets compare to other things. Current cost of the war is 1trillion+ and growing. That costs each person in the US around $4300.00/ea. The cost of Curiosity was 2.5billion. Which is a cost of about $8/person.
      The question is, where is the money best spent?
      • The cost of learning and excitement.

        Great analogy!
    • Sticker shock

      I'm still reeling from the $13 trillion U.S. that the government transferred to the monster banks on Wall Street. This was NOT money well-spent.

      NASA's robotic missions, on the other hand, are money well-spent. Enjoy the missions while they last ...
      Rabid Howler Monkey
    • I will never understand comments like yours.

      NASA didn't put half a billion dollars in suit cases and shoot it at Mars, the money was spent right here paying, wait for it, SALARIES and WAGES so people can spend it on groceries and rent. If you took Curiosity and crushed it and sold it for salvage there might be a couple thousand dollars worth of materials, the rest all went to pay people.
    • Projects.

      Worth bearing in mind, you wouldn't be able to have written your post if not for those "projects" you look down your nose at.

      No Internet.
      No Microwave Ovens

      The list goes on...

      As already mentioned, more money spent on wars...
  • More Important Things To Do

    NASA needs to shift from space exploration to alternative energy research. Knowledge of Mars formation is pretty much useless.
    • Nasa research

      Alot of what nasa does while exploring space does lead to real world solutions. Plus the DOE that should be working on that.
      • Nuclear winter theory came from Mars research

        I think the proposed nuclear winter theory which came from NASA research on Mars would qualify as useful.
  • Knowledge of Mars formation.... likely to tell us a bit about Earth formation (increases the sample size from 1 to 2). This falls in the category of basic science that private enterprise won't do (and shouldn't be expected to) because there's no money in it, and universities and private researchers can't do because it's too expensive.
    John L. Ries
  • An atmosphere does make a difference

    If the pictures are any indication, even a thin, unbreathable one as Mars is supposed to have does. Moon photos always looked other-worldly, while Mars photos look like they were taken in an earthly desert minus the vegetation.
    John L. Ries