Mission Firsts

  • First mission dedicated to studying the deep interior of Mars
  • First to place a seismometer directly on the surface of another planet to detect quakes
  • First to use a robotic arm to place instruments on the surface of another planet
  • First to probe as deep as 16 feet (5 meters) under the Martian surface -- 15 times deeper than any previous Mars mission
  • First to use a magnetometer on the surface of Mars
  • First interplanetary launch from the West Coast

Mars Insight Mission Logo

Mission Name

The long form of the mission's name is Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, which includes the three main research techniques to be used by the InSight stationary lander. A dictionary definition of "insight" is to see the inner nature of something.


InSight Lander Dimensions

Height range (after its legs compress a still-to-be-determined amount during impact): between 33 to 43 inches (83 to 108 centimeters) from the bottom of the legs to the top of the deck; span with solar arrays deployed: 19 feet, 8 inches (6.00 meters); width of deck: 5 feet, 1 inch (1.56 meters); length of robotic arm: 5 feet, 11 inches (1.8 meters)

Parachute Dimensions

Diameter: 39 feet (11.8 meters). Suspensions lines: 40 in total, which tie into 10 risers. Mortar canister: 1; the parachute trails the mortar by about 65 feet (20 meters). Peak load: Up to 15,000 pounds per foot (22,000 kilograms per meter)

Heat Shield

Dimensions: 8 feet, 8 inches wide (2.64 meters). Backshell and heat shield weight: 419 pounds (190 kilograms). Composition: The heat shield is made of Lockheed Martin’s SLA-561V (Super Lightweight Ablator 561V) thermal protection material. This material is primarily made up of crushed cork. SLA-561V was developed and used on the Viking missions in 1976 and for every NASA Mars surface mission with the exception of Curiosity and the upcoming Mars 2020 mission. Though based on the Phoenix Lander design, the InSight heat shield is slightly thicker than the one used for the Mars Phoenix mission.


About 1,530 pounds (694 kilograms) for the entire InSight spacecraft at launch. The spacecraft includes the lander, which is about 789 pounds (358 kilograms), the 417-pound (189-kilogram) aeroshell, 174-pound (79-kilogram) cruise stage and 148 pounds (67 kilograms) of loaded propellant and pressurant. Mass of each MarCO spacecraft: 29.8 pounds (13.5 kilograms). Total payload mass on the rocket: 1,590 pounds (721 kilograms)


Solar panels and lithium-ion batteries are on both InSight and MarCO. On InSight, the two solar array panels together provide about 1,300 watts on Earth on a clear day. On Mars, they provide 600-700 watts on a clear day, or just enough to power a household blender. They’re estimated to provide 200-300 watts on a dusty day, even with some dust covering the panels.

InSight Science Payload

About 110 pounds (50 kilograms), including Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, Auxiliary Payload Sensor Suite, Instrument Deployment System and Laser Retroreflector. (The Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment uses the lander’s telecommunications system.)

Mars Cube One (MarCO) dimensions:

Twin spacecraft, each 14.4 inches (36.6 centimeters) by 9.6 inches (24.3 centimeters) by 4.6 inches (11.8 centimeters).


One pointable camera on InSight’s robotic arm and one fixed, wide-angle camera under the spacecraft’s lander deck are both capable of producing color images of 1,024 pixels by 1,024 pixels. MarCO-A and B each have a wide-field camera (primarily to confirm high-gain antenna deployment) capable of color images of 752 pixels by 480 pixels in resolution.

Both MarCO CubeSats were also designed with a narrow-field-of-view camera, but MarCO-A’s narrow-field camera was found to be inoperable prior to launch.

Artists concept of Insight

Artist's concept of Insight lander on the surface of Mars.


Launch: May 5, 2018, 4:05 a.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT), Vandenberg Air Force Base, Central California

Launch vehicle: Atlas V 401, provided by United Launch Alliance

Mars landing time: Nov. 26, 2018, 11:47 a.m. PST (2:47 p.m. EST; 19:47 UTC). Because it takes about 8 minutes for light to travel from Mars to Earth, this means the landing “signal” will be received in Mission Control as early as around 11:54 a.m. PST (2:54 p.m. EST; 19:54 UTC). We refer to this as “Earth Receive Time,” or ERT. At the Mars landing site, it will be mid-afternoon on a winter day.

Landing site: Near the equator, about 4.5 degrees north latitude, 135.9 degrees east longitude, in Elysium Planitia

Landing site’s distance from: Curiosity: 340 miles (550 kilometers), Spirit: 1,600 miles (2,600 kilometers), Opportunity: 5,200 miles (8,400 kilometers)

Distance traveled since launch, as of Oct. 31: 269,006,537 miles (432,924,056 kilometers)

Earth-Mars distance on Nov. 26, 2018: 91 million miles (146 million kilometers)

One-way radio transit time, Mars to Earth, on Nov. 26, 2018: 8.1 minutes

Primary mission duration: One Martian year plus 40 Martian days (nearly 2 Earth years), until Nov. 24, 2020

Expected near-surface atmospheric temperature range at landing site during primary mission: minus 148ºF to minus 4ºF (minus 100ºC to minus 20ºC)


U.S. investment in InSight is $813.8 million, including about $163.4 million for the launch vehicle and launch services, and the rest for the spacecraft and operations through the end of the prime mission. In addition, France and Germany -- the major European participants -- have invested about $180 million in InSight’s investigations, primarily the seismometer investigation (SEIS) and heat flow investigation (HP3).

JPL and NASA are investing about $18.5 million in the Mars Cube One technology.