InSight MarCO Transparent.png
InSight Lander Transparent.png
Top: Artist's rendering of the MarCO CubeSats
Bottom: Artist's rendering of the InSight lander
NamesInterior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport
Geophysical Monitoring Station
Discovery 12
Mission typeMars lander
OperatorNASA / JPL
COSPAR ID2018-042A
SATCAT no.43457
Mission durationPlanned: 709 sols (728 days)[1][2]
Current: 18 sols (18 days) since landing
Spacecraft properties
ManufacturerLockheed Martin Space Systems
Launch mass694 kg (1,530 lb)[3]
Landing mass358 kg (789 lb)[3]
DimensionsDeployed: 6.0 × 1.56 × 1.0 m (19.7 × 5.1 × 3.3 ft)[4]-
Power600 W, solar / Li-ion battery[3]
Start of mission
Launch date5 May 2018, 11:05 (2018-05-05UTC11:05) UTC[5][6]
RocketAtlas V 401[7]
Launch siteVandenberg SLC-3E[7]
ContractorUnited Launch Alliance
Mars lander
Landing date26 November 2018, 19:52:59 (2018-11-26UTC19:52:59) UTC[2]
Landing siteElysium Planitia[8][9]
4°30′N 135°00′E / 4.5°N 135.0°E / 4.5; 135.0 (InSight landing site)
Flyby of Mars
Spacecraft componentMars Cube One (MarCO)
Closest approach26 November 2018, 19:52:59 (2018-11-26UTC19:52:59) UTC[2]
Distance3,500 km (2,200 mi)[10]
InSight Mission Logo.svg
Lucy →

The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight)[1] mission is a robotic lander designed to study the deep interior of the planet Mars.[1][11][12] It was manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and most payload instruments it carries were built by European agencies. The mission launched on 5 May 2018 at 11:05 UTC aboard an Atlas V-401 rocket[5] and successfully landed[13] at Elysium Planitia on Mars on 26 November 2018 at 19:52:59 UTC.[14][15][5][16] InSight traveled 483 million km (300 million mi) during its journey.[17]

InSight's objectives are to place a seismometer, called SEIS, on the surface of Mars to measure seismic activity and provide accurate 3D models of the planet's interior; and measure internal heat flow using a heat probe called HP3 to study Mars' early geological evolution.[18] This could bring a new understanding of the Solar System's terrestrial planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars – and Earth's Moon.

The lander was originally planned for launch in March 2016.[12][19] Following a persistent vacuum failure in the SEIS instrument prior to launch, with the 2016 launch window missed, InSight was returned to Lockheed Martin's facility in Denver, Colorado, for storage. NASA officials decided in March 2016 to delay launching InSight to May 2018.[6] This allowed time for the seismometer issue to be fixed, although it increased the cost from the previous US$675 million to a total of US$830 million.[20] By reusing technology from the Mars Phoenix lander, which successfully landed on Mars in 2008, mission costs and risks were reduced.[21]


InSight comes together with the backshell and surface lander being joined, 2015.

InSight was initially known as GEMS (Geophysical Monitoring Station), but its name was changed in early 2012 following a request by NASA.[22] Out of 28 proposals from 2010,[23] it was one of the three Discovery Program finalists receiving US$3 million in May 2011 to develop a detailed concept study.[24] In August 2012, InSight was selected for development and launch.[12] Managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) with participation from scientists from several countries, the mission was cost-capped at US$425 million, not including launch vehicle funding.[25]

Lockheed Martin began construction of the lander on 19 May 2014,[26] with general testing starting in 27 May 2015.[27]

A persistent vacuum leak in the CNES-supplied seismometer known as the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) led NASA to postpone the planned launch in March 2016 to May 2018. When InSight was delayed, the rest of the spacecraft was returned to Lockheed Martin's factory in Colorado for storage, and the Atlas V rocket intended to launch the spacecraft was reassigned to the WorldView-4 mission.[28]

On 9 March 2016, NASA officials announced that InSight would be delayed until the 2018 launch window at an estimated cost of US$150 million.[6][29] The spacecraft was rescheduled to launch on 5 May 2018 for a Mars landing on 26 November at 3 p.m. The flight plan remained unchanged with launch using an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.[6][29] NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was tasked with redesigning and building a new vacuum enclosure for the SEIS instrument, while CNES conducted instrument integration and testing.[30][31]

On 22 November 2017 InSight completed testing in a thermal vacuum, also known as TVAC testing, where the spacecraft is put in simulated space conditions with reduced pressure and various thermal loads.[32] On 23 January 2018, after a long storage, its solar panels were once again deployed and tested, and a second silicon chip containing 1.6 million names from the public was added to the lander.[33]

On 28 February 2018, InSight was shipped via C-17 cargo aircraft from the Lockheed Martin Space Systems building in Denver to the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in order to be integrated to the launch vehicle.[34] The lander was launched on 5 May 2018 and arrived on Mars at approximately 19:54 UTC on 26 November 2018.

Science background

InSight lander – vibrations detected due to possible wind and dust devils on Mars
(7 December 2018)

NASA noted the difficulty of building an interplanetary seismometer when the Viking 1 lander's seismometer did not deploy properly in 1976.[35] The seismometer on both Viking spacecraft were mounted on the lander, which meant that it also picked up vibrations from various operations of the lander and from the wind.[36] The seismometer readings were used to estimate a Martian geological crust thickness between 14 and 18 km (8.7 and 11.2 mi) at the Viking 2 lander site.[37] The Viking 2 seismometer detected pressure from the Mars winds complementing the meteorology results.[37][38] There was one candidate for a possible marsquake, although it was not confirmed due to the limitations of the design, especially due to interference from other sources like wind. The wind data did prove useful in its own right, and despite the limitations of the data, widespread and large marsquakes were not detected.[39]

Radio Doppler measurements were taken with Viking and twenty years later with Mars Pathfinder, and in each case the axis of rotation of Mars was estimated. By combining this data the core size was constrained, because the change in axis of rotation over 20 years allowed a precession rate and from that the planet's moment of inertia to be estimated.[40] InSight's measurements of crust thickness, mantle viscosity, core radius and density, and seismic activity should result in a three- to tenfold increase in accuracy compared to current data.[41]

Seismometers were also left on the Moon from the Apollo 12, 14, 15 and 16 missions and provided many insights into lunar seismology, including the discovery of moonquakes.[42] The Apollo seismic network, which was operated until 1977, detected at least 28 moonquakes up to 5.5 on the Richter scale.[43]

Mission status

First light on the surface of Mars from the Instrument Context Camera (ICC, left) and the Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC, right)

On 26 November 2018, NASA reported that the InSight lander had landed successfully on Mars. A touchdown image was received, taken through a transparent lens cover, which was removed a few days later.

A few hours after landing later, NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter relayed signals indicating that InSight's solar panels had successfully unfurled and are generating enough electrical power to recharge its batteries daily. Odyssey also relayed a pair of images showing InSight's landing site.[44] More images will be taken in stereo pairs to create 3D images, allowing InSight to find the best places to place the heat probe and seismometer. Over the next few weeks, InSight will check health indicators and monitor both weather and temperature conditions at the landing site.[45]

The meteorological suite (TWINS) and magnetometer are operational, and the mission will take up to three months to deploy and commission the geophysical science instruments.[45][46]

On 7 December 2018, NASA released an audio recording of wind on Mars.[47] This was the first ever recording of Martian wind.


The InSight mission placed a single stationary lander on Mars to study its deep interior and address a fundamental issue of planetary and Solar System science: understanding the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner Solar System (including Earth) more than four billion years ago.[48]

Comparison of the interiors of Earth, Mars and the Moon (artist concept)

InSight's primary objective is to study the earliest evolutionary history of the processes that shaped Mars. By studying the size, thickness, density and overall structure of Mars' core, mantle and crust, as well as the rate at which heat escapes from the planet's interior, InSight will provide a glimpse into the evolutionary processes of all of the rocky planets in the inner Solar System.[49][48] The rocky inner planets share a common ancestry that begins with a process called accretion. As the body increases in size, its interior heats up and evolves to become a terrestrial planet, containing a core, mantle and crust.[50] Despite this common ancestry, each of the terrestrial planets is later shaped and molded through a poorly understood process called differentiation. InSight mission's goal is to improve the understanding of this process and, by extension, terrestrial evolution, by measuring the planetary building blocks shaped by this differentiation: a terrestrial planet's core, mantle and crust.[50]

InSight lander on Mars (artist concept)

The mission will determine if there is any seismic activity, measure the rate of heat flow from the interior, estimate the size of Mars' core and whether the core is liquid or solid.[51] This data would be the first of its kind for Mars.[41] It is also expected that frequent meteor airbursts (10–200 detectable events per year for InSight) will provide additional seismo-acoustic signals to probe the interior of Mars.[52] The mission's secondary objective is to conduct an in-depth study of geophysics, tectonic activity and the effect of meteorite impacts on Mars, which could provide knowledge about such processes on Earth. Measurements of crust thickness, mantle viscosity, core radius and density, and seismic activity should result in a three- to tenfold increase in accuracy compared to current data.[41]

In terms of fundamental processes shaping planetary formation, it is thought that Mars contains the most in-depth and accurate historical record, because it is big enough to have undergone the earliest accretion and internal heating processes that shaped the terrestrial planets, but is small enough to have retained signs of those processes.[48]

The lander will then begin its mission of observing Mars, which is expected to last for two years.[1]


The InSight lander with solar panels deployed in a cleanroom

The mission further develops a design inherited from the 2008 Phoenix Mars lander.[53] Because InSight is powered by solar panels, it landed near the equator to enable maximum power for a projected lifetime of two years (1 Martian year).[1] The mission includes two relay microsatellites called Mars Cube One (MarCO) that launched with InSight but were flying in formation with InSight to Mars.[54]