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The Last Days of Mars InSight

Presentation #312.09 in the session IDEA, Education, Public Engagement, Workforce Development and History (Poster + Lightning Talk)

Published onOct 23, 2023
The Last Days of Mars InSight

On the morning of December 16, 2022, red alarms came pouring in, indicating that InSight’s (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) battery voltage was nearing its minimum. The operations team had been anticipating this as the lander had been on a measured downward energy trend for several weeks. It was only a matter of time before the lander would cease operation. Eagerly waiting the next downlink, the spacecraft teams hypothesized just how much longer InSight would last. Some predicted days, while others predicted months. That December day would represent the last time that Earth would hear from InSight.

This paper details the story of InSight’s final days - a story that began a year earlier with a safing event caused by the Martian dusty environment that decreased available energy. It illustrates the actions taken by the operations team to recover from this event and a second safing event five months later. The efforts of the mission to prioritize science priorities for clearly-defined power levels and develop new strategies for reacting to future dust storms are detailed.

We elaborate on the challenges faced operating the lander as power and battery issues became more pronounced and the necessity to remove of “safety nets” designed for safely operating during the prime mission. Also discussed are refinements to power and data models – necessary as energy and data stream became a trickle. Lessons are outlined that can benefit future solar-powered Mars surface missions. Finally, the paper discusses a system to ensure that the operations team can jump back into action should we detect a signal indicating a battery recharge.

While the InSight lander is sitting quietly on the surface of Mars, InSight’s legacy will live on. The seismometer detected over 3000 Mars quakes and meteoroid impacts that have placed tighter constraints on Mars’ core, mantle, and crust; filling a critical knowledge gap in planetary formation models. Radio data has constrained the precession rate. The self-burying temperature probe has taught us about physical and thermal properties of the Martian soil, while the magnetometer found evidence of an ancient strong magnetic field. Discoveries may still lurk within the plethora of collected data that remain to be examined within NASA’s Planetary Data System.

The research described in this paper was carried out in part at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Copyright 2023, California Institute of Technology. Government sponsorship is acknowledged.

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