A dictionary definition of "insight" is to see the inner nature of something. The mission of InSight is to see inside Mars and learn what makes it tick. So while InSight is the first Mars mission dedicated to studying the planet’s deep interior, it is more than a Mars mission, because information about the layers of Mars today will advance understanding about the formation and early evolution of all rocky planets, including Earth. Although Mars and Earth formed from the same primordial stuff more than 4.5 billion years ago, they became quite different. InSight will help explain why.

A planet's deep interior holds evidence related to details of the planet's formation that set the stage for what happens on the surface. The interior heat engine drives the processes that lift some portions of the surface higher than others, resulting in a landscape's elevation differences. The interior is the source of most of a planet's atmosphere, its surface rocks, water and ice, and its magnetic field. It provides many of the conditions that determine whether a planet will have environments favorable for the existence of life.

What's In a Name?

The long form of the mission's name is Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, which tells the three main research techniques to be used by the InSight stationary lander. These techniques allow scientists to take the “vital signs” of Mars:

Seismic investigations study vibrations of the ground set off by marsquakes (the Mars equivalent to earthquakes) and meteorite impacts, including the analysis of how these vibrations pass through interior materials and bounce off boundaries between layers. For this research technique, InSight will deploy a seismometer provided by France. Seismic investigations can be compared to how physicians use sonograms and X-rays to see inside a body.

Geodesy is the study of a planet's exact shape and its orientation in space, including variations in the speed of rotation and wobbles of its axis of rotation. The axis of rotation is very sensitive to conditions deep inside Mars. For this research technique, the lander's radio link to Earth will provide precise tracking of a fixed location on the surface as the planet rotates, throughout the course of a full Mars year. This investigation of the planet's motion can be compared to examining a patient's reflexes during a medical check-up.

Study of heat transport is a way to assess a planet's interior energy and its dissipation. For this research technique, InSight will sink a German-made probe more than 3 meters (10 feet) into the ground to measure how well the ground conducts heat and how much heat is rising toward the surface. This investigation can be compared to how a physician reads a patient's temperature as an indicator of internal health.

Other components of the InSight lander's science payload are auxiliary instruments for monitoring the environment to aid the primary investigations, and a deployment system with a robotic arm and two cameras for the task of placing the main instruments onto the ground.

Some of these additional sensors will monitor wind, variations in magnetic field and changes in atmospheric pressure because these factors could affect seismometer readings. Others will monitor air temperature and ground-surface temperature, which will help in subtracting effects of those temperatures from heat probe and seismometer data. These supplemental instruments will also enable additional investigations, such as magnetic soundings of the Martian interior by the magnetometer and weather monitoring by the atmospheric sensors.

The auxiliary sensors and the two color cameras will provide information about the environment surrounding the InSight lander on the surface of a broad Martian plain near the equator, but for this mission, the science emphasis is to learn about depths that cannot be seen.

Science Objectives

InSight has two official overarching science goals:

1) Understand the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets through investigation of the interior structure and processes of Mars;

2) Determine the present levels of tectonic activity and meteorite-impact activity on Mars.

To get to these goals, NASA has determined these more specific science objectives:

  • Determine the thickness and structure of the crust
  • Determine the composition and structure of the mantle
  • Determine the size, composition, and physical state of the core
  • Determine the thermal state of the interior
  • Measure the rate and geographic distribution of seismic activity
  • Measure the rate of meteorite impacts on the surface

For additional detail on these objectives see: Appendix: Science Objectives, Quantified

Why This Kind of Investigation of Mars?

Several reports setting scientific priorities for planetary science have stressed the importance of investigating the interior of Mars. While the Mars Viking missions of the 1970s were still active, a report by the National Research Council's Committee of Planetary and Lunar Exploration, Strategy for Exploration of the Inner Planets: 1977-1987, said, "Determination of the internal structure of Mars, including thickness of a crust and the existence and size of a core, and measurement of the location, size and temporal dependence of Martian seismic events, is an objective of the highest importance."

In ensuing decades, several missions for investigating Mars' interior were proposed, though none flew successfully. The National Research Council's most recent decadal study of planetary-science priorities, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, said, "Insight into the composition, structure and history of Mars is fundamental to understanding the solar system as a whole, as well as providing context for the history and processes of our own planet. …Unfortunately, there has been little progress made toward a better understanding of the martian interior and the processes that have occurred."

A stationary lander capable of placing sensitive instruments directly onto the surface and monitoring them for many months is a mission design exactly suited to studying the interior of Mars. InSight will be the first Mars mission to use a robotic arm to grasp objects (in this case, scientific instruments) and permanently deploy instruments onto the ground. The mission has no need for a rover's mobility. The heat probe and seismometer stay at a fixed location after deployment. The precision of the geodesy investigation gains from keeping the radio in one place.

Building on Heritage

InSight uses many aspects of a stationary-lander mission design already proven by NASA's Phoenix Mars lander mission, which investigated ice, soil and atmosphere at a site in the Martian arctic in 2008. The robotic arm for InSight, rather than scooping up samples for laboratory analysis as Phoenix did, will hoist the heat probe, seismometer and a protective shelter for the seismometer one at a time from the lander deck and place them onto the ground.

The first time a seismometer was placed on a world other than Earth was during the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969. The only seismometers previously used on Mars stayed on the decks of two Viking landers in 1976. Those were much less sensitive and more exposed to wind effects than InSight's seismometer will be. Nearly 50 years after Apollo, InSight will be the first seismometer placed directly on the surface of the Mars.

InSight's science payload and science team draw heavily on international collaboration and shared expertise. The national space agencies of France and Germany are providing the two main instruments. Austria, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are also participating.

InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program of competitively selected missions for exploring our solar system. The Discovery Program enables scientists to use innovative approaches to answering fundamental questions about our solar system. Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, now the principal investigator for InSight, led the team that prepared the mission proposal -- originally called Geophysical Monitoring Station, or GEMS -- submitted in September 2010. That proposal and 27 other proposals for missions to various destinations throughout the solar system were evaluated in a competition for the 2016 launch opportunity of the Discovery Program. InSight was selected in August 2012.

How Does Mars Tell Us About Other Planets?

The four inner planets of the solar system, plus Earth's Moon, are called terrestrial worlds because they share a closer kinship with each other, including Earth, than with the worlds farther from the Sun. Diverse as they are, they each have rocky surfaces; they are also called the rocky planets. They each have high density -- the ratio of volume to mass -- indicating their interiors have even denser ingredients than their surface rocks.

All of the terrestrial planets have a three-part layered structure:

  • At the center is a metallic, iron-rich core, part of which may be molten.
  • Above the core is a thick middle layer called the mantle, rich in silicon, making up most of the bulk of the planet.
  • Above the mantle is a relatively thin crust of less-dense rocky material.

Schematic of similarities and differences in the interiors of Earth, Mars and Earth's Moon. Download image

Some of the ever-increasing number of exoplanets identified around stars other than our Sun may be similarly rocky and layered, though Earthlike worlds are smaller than the giant exoplanets whose size makes them easiest to find.

A key challenge in planetary science half a century into the Space Age is to understand factors that affect how newly forming planets with the same starting materials evolve into worlds as diverse as the terrestrial planets. As a particularly interesting corollary: What does it take to make a planet as special as Earth?

Planets start as growing coagulations of primordial particles in a disc-shaped swarm around a formative star -- the proto-Sun in the case of our solar system. Meteorites provide information about composition of the planet-forming raw material. Earth formed from the same material as its neighboring planets, but none of the planets now matches the mineral composition of those starting ingredients. They evolved.

As the forming planets grew larger, they heated inside, with energy from pieces coming together and natural radioactivity. Melting due to the heat enabled enough mobility for heavier ingredients to sink toward the center. Temperature and pressure affected the chemistry of the ingredients. Cooling caused some minerals to crystallize out of the melt at different temperatures than others. Multiple models have been proposed for the steps in how different minerals were produced and stratified as Earth's evolution proceeded. Each of these models of terrestrial planet evolution fits the evidence known from studying Earth. Gaining knowledge of a different case -- Mars -- should rule out some of the models. Achieving that will yield both a better understanding of why Earth turned out the way it did and a conceptual framework for studying rocky planets of other stars.

Mars as a Model

The most accessible world for studying terrestrial planets is Earth. In the past century, research using InSight's main methods -- seismology, geodesy and heat transport -- has substantially rewritten humans' understanding of Earth's interior and planetary history. But Mars offers advantages making it the right choice for a mission seeking to learn more about the formation and early evolution of terrestrial planets.

The major process in Earth that geological science has elucidated in the past century is plate tectonics, a recycling of crust driven by convection in the mantle as heat moves out from the core. The mantle has been vigorously stirred by convective motion driven by warmed material rising and cooled material sinking. The rising generates fresh crust at mid-ocean ridges; the sinking drags downward at some plate edges. The churning has erased from both crust and mantle most structural evidence of the first several tens of millions of years of Earth's history after the planet formed about 4.5 billion years ago.

Mars lacks plate tectonics. Likely because of its smaller size, compared to Earth, that process has not churned the mantle and crust of Mars. Therefore, its interior could provide clues unavailable on Earth about the accretion and early evolution of Earth, Mars and other rocky planets. For example, the mantle of Mars may retain differences in composition at different depths, which convection has blended together on Earth.

Investigations of the Earth's Moon, including analysis of lunar rocks returned to Earth, indicate that, although the Moon followed many of the same evolutionary steps as Earth, the path of its evolution was distinctly different because of its much smaller size. For example, it never underwent certain geochemical changes related to the greater interior pressure of the Earth.

Unlike the Moon, Mars is big enough to have undergone most of the same processes as early Earth. Unlike Earth, it is small enough not to have erased as much evidence of its early activity. Compared to Venus and Mercury, Mars provides a more accessible destination and less harsh surface environment for sensitive robotic hardware to operate for many months of data collection.

As added benefits, knowledge about the surface and atmosphere of Mars that has been gained from a series of successful missions there will help researchers interpret information InSight adds about the deep interior, and InSight's findings will improve context for understanding those missions' results.

Science Experiments


Illustration of InSight's SEIS instrument with some key components labeled. Download image

Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure

The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) is a six-sensor seismometer combining two types of sensors to measure ground motions over a wide range of frequencies. In each set of three sensors, the sensors are mounted at angles to each other to detect motion in any direction. One set is an ultra-sensitive "very broad band" instrument enclosed in a vacuum vessel. It will measure ground oscillations of medium-to-low frequencies (from a few cycles per second to less than one one-thousandth of a cycle per second). The other is a short-period instrument, adding capability for higher-frequency vibrations (up to 50 cycles per second).

That combination will be set directly onto the ground, connected to the lander by a flexible tether containing power and data lines. Then an additional protective cover -- the Wind and Thermal Shield -- will be placed over it. The SEIS electronics box remains on the lander.

Some SEIS components before final assembly

SEIS in preparation for thermal vacuum testing, before being covered by Wind and Thermal Shield. Download image

SEIS in preparation for thermal vacuum testing

Some SEIS components before final assembly: a very broad band sensor, three-legged leveling fixture to hold sensors, vacuum vessel. Download image

Seismometers are best known as devices to detect, locate and measure the magnitude of earthquakes. One set of goals for SEIS is to provide such information about quakes on Mars, called "marsquakes," and other sources of ground motion, such as meteorite impacts and faint gravitational effects of Mars' moon Phobos.

However, it is not just the sources of ground motion that are of interest. Those sources trigger ground vibrations called seismic waves. The waves travel at different velocities and different attenuation rates through different types of material, providing a signal affected by composition and density. Some are reflected and refracted by boundaries between interior layers, comparable to reflection and refraction of light waves at the surface of a lake. Seismometers are the eyes enabling researchers to use ground-motion waves to see into the interior of a planet. Most of our knowledge about the interior of Earth comes from seismometers. SEIS will be the first seismometer placed directly onto Mars.

A ground-shaking event sets off some waves that move through a planet's interior -- body waves -- and others that spread across the surface -- surface waves. Two types of body waves, called "p" and "s" for primary and secondary, have distinctively different directions of ground motion and travel at different velocities. The time gap between arrival of p waves and arrival of s waves is an indicator of the distance they traveled from their origin to the seismometer, though other factors in the ground also affect their speed. Surface waves travel at different speeds from body waves, and also on a different path, along the ground surface.

SEIS can measure wave frequencies from more than 10 minutes between waves to about 50 waves per second. To gain information from faint or distant sources of ground movement, it has a sensitivity capable of detecting displacements of smaller distance than the diameter of a hydrogen atom. With that extreme sensitivity, many types of motion other than seismic waves could add noise to the desired data, so InSight carries countermeasures. Some protection comes from features of the SEIS instrument itself, such as its vacuum vessel and the wind and thermal shield. In addition, InSight's auxiliary sensors will monitor variables such as wind, atmospheric pressure and magnetic field so that their effects can be accounted for in interpretation of data from the seismometer.

France's national space agency, Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES), Paris, leads the consortium that provided SEIS. Other organizations in France, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany and the United States collaborated in building the instrument. The principal investigator for SEIS is Philippe Lognonné of the Institute of Earth Physics of Paris (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, or IPGP). SEIS development benefited from design of a similar instrument developed for a European multi-lander mission to Mars that was planned for a 2005 launch but canceled before completion.

IPGP supplied the very broad band sensors. Imperial College, London, made the short period sensors. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, or ETH), Zurich, provided the data-acquisition electronics. The Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung, or MPS), Göttingen, Germany, supplied the leveling system. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, made the tether and the Wind and Thermal Shield, which includes a skirt of chainmail to accommodate uneven ground beneath a rigid dome. The chainmail comes from MailleTec Industries, Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe

InSight's Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3, pronounced "H-P cubed") will use a self-hammering mechanical mole burrowing to a depth of 10 to 16 feet (3 to 5 meters). Measurements by sensors on the mole and on a science tether from the mole to the surface will yield the first precise determination of the amount of heat escaping from the planet's interior.

Heat flow is a vital sign of a planet. It carries information about the interior heat engine that drives the planet's geology. Heat is the energy that powers planetary evolution, shaping the mountains and canyons of the surface. A planet's interior heat affects how primordial ingredients of planetary formation form layers and how volatile components, such as water molecules, are released to the surface or atmosphere. Determining modern temperature flux will help scientists discriminate between models for how the interior of Mars has evolved over time.

Heat flow also foretells the destiny of a planet: the pace at which its core energy is diminishing.

InSight's heat probe will penetrate more than 15-fold deeper beneath the surface than any previous hardware on Mars. The current record was achieved by the scoop of NASA's Phoenix Mars lander digging to a depth of about 7 inches (18 centimeters), though radar instruments on Mars orbiters have revealed details of features much deeper, down to a few miles or kilometers.

The depth of the heat probe's emplacement will get it away from most effects of daily and seasonal temperature changes at the surface. On Earth, experiments to measure heat flow from the planet's interior must go deeper because water movement in the ground extends the effects of surface-temperature variations, but 10 feet (3 meters) is calculated as deep enough for useful measurement of heat flowing outward from the interior of Mars.

The instrument's mole is expected to use thousands of hammering strokes of a spring-loaded tungsten block, over the course of about 30 days, to reach its full depth. The total number of strokes needed is expected to be between 5,000 and 20,000, depending on characteristics of the ground the device is traveling through, such as how compacted the soil is. The mole is about 1 inch (2.7 centimeters) in diameter and about 16 inches (40 centimeters) long -- about the diameter of a U.S. quarter and the length of a forearm. The exterior is an aluminum cylinder with the downward end tapered to a point, making it the shape of a finishing nail.

Illustration of InSight's HP<sup>3</sup> instrument with some key components labeled

Illustration of InSight's HP3 instrument with some key components labeled. Download image

The mole carries sensors and heaters to determine the thermal conductivity of the ground around it. The thermal conductivity experiment measures how long it takes heat released from the surface of the probe to reach temperature sensors at a known distance away. The conductivity information is combined with information from sensors about ground temperature at different depths -- the thermal gradient -- to determine heat flux. The HP3 sensors can measure temperature differences as small as about two one-hundredths of a degree Fahrenheit (about one one-hundredth of a degree Celsius).

The mole also contains the hammering mechanism and tilt sensors. A motor attached to a gearbox slowly compresses and then quickly releases a spring that drives the tungsten hammer against the interior of the mole tip, at a pace of one stroke every 3.6 seconds. The tilt sensors provide information about how much of the mole's motion is net downward penetration and how much is lateral, out of total burrowing motion determined by monitoring the length of science tether pulled into the ground.

The science tether connects the upper end of the mole to the HP3 support structure, which InSight's robotic arm will place directly onto the Martian surface. The support structure remains connected the lander by an engineering tether. Both tethers carry data and electricity. The science tether has 14 temperature sensors embedded along it, at distance intervals that increase farther from the mole. The two closest to the mole are 9 inches (23 centimeters) apart; the two farthest from it are twice that far apart. These sensors will continue monitoring the thermal gradient beneath the surface after the mole has reached full depth.

HP<sup>3</sup> investigation's mole, science tether, support structure and engineering tether.

From left to right: HP3 investigation's mole, science tether, support structure and engineering tether. Download image

The engineering tether connects the HP3 support structure to the instrument's back-end electronics box on the lander. This box provides the interfaces to the lander's power system and main computer. It includes half a gigabyte of non-volatile memory, enough to hold all HP3 data from the mission.

The probe's digging phase is designed to last about 30 to 40 days after the mission's initial phase when instruments are deployed from the deck onto the ground. After about each 6 inches (15 centimeters) of burrowing, the hammering will pause for about four days, while temperatures equilibrate and thermal conductivity measurements are collected. After completion of the digging phase, the probe will continue to make temperature measurements for the rest of the mission.

HP<sup>3</sup> investigation's mole, science tether, support structure and engineering tether.

HP3 (foreground) and domed Wind and Thermal Shield (covering SEIS) in preparation for thermal vacuum testing. Download image

The HP3 investigation also includes a radiometer to measure ground-surface temperature near the lander based on its infrared brightness. Data from the radiometer will help account for effects that changes in ground-surface temperature may have on temperatures beneath the surface.

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, or DLR), headquartered in Cologne, provided InSight's Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe. The principal investigator for HP3 is Tilman Spohn, of DLR's Institute of Planetary Research (Institut für Planetenforschung), Berlin, who also is principal investigator for an instrument suite with a similar heat probe on the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission to comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Astronika, Warsaw, and the Polish Academy of Sciences' Space Research Center (Centrum Badan Kosmicznych, or CBK), Warsaw, built the hammering mechanism for the HP3 mole, which was designed by Astronika.

Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment

One of InSight's three main investigations -- the geodesy study -- does not require its own dedicated science instrument: The Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE) will use InSight's direct radio connection with Earth to assess perturbations of Mars' rotation axis. These measurements can provide information about the planet's core.

The perturbations resemble the wobble of a spinning top, and occur on two time scales. The longer wobble takes about 165,000 years and is the same as the process that makes a top wobble, called precession. The speed of this precession is directly related to the proportion of the body's mass that is close to the center, in the iron-rich core. The shorter-period wobbles, called nutations, occur on time scales of less than a year and are extremely small. Their cause is unrelated to a toy top's wobble. A closer analogy is the traditional method for determining whether an egg is hard-boiled by spinning it. An egg with a solid center spins easily. The liquid center of a raw egg perturbs the spin.

With InSight as the marker for a specific point on the Martian surface, radio tracking will monitor the location of that point in space to within a less than 4 inches (10 centimeters). This will provide information about how much the rotation axis of Mars sways with motion that is an indicator about the size of the core.

Radio tracking of the location of NASA's Mars Pathfinder lander for three months in 1997, combined with tracking data from the Viking Mars landers in the 1970s, provided information about long-term changes (precession) in Mars' spin axis. Researchers were able to confirm that Mars has a very dense core. A different radio-science investigation, analyzing gravitational effects of Mars on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter, indicated some portion of the planet's outer core is molten, based on how much Mars bulges from tidal pull of the Sun.

A longer tracking period with a stationary lander is the next step for measuring nutations to determine the core's exact size and density, and how much of the core is molten. This is not an experiment suited to Mars rovers, because they change their locations on the planet.

The tools for the RISE investigation are the X-band radio on the InSight lander and the large dish antennas of NASA's Deep Space Network at stations in California, Australia and Spain. This is the same direct radio link by which the spacecraft will receive commands and can return data, though it will use relayed radio links through Mars orbiters for most of its data return.

The lead investigator for RISE is William Folkner of JPL, who led the 1997 investigation of Mars' core using the radio link between Earth and NASA's Mars Pathfinder.

Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem

InSight carries a suite of environmental-monitoring instruments, called the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem (APSS), to measure the local magnetic field, wind, and atmospheric temperature and pressure. The primary reason for including these instruments in the mission's payload is to aid interpretation of seismometer data by tracking changes in the magnetic field or atmosphere that could cause ground movement or sensor readings that might otherwise be mistaken for a seismic event. However, they can also serve on their own for other Mars science investigations.

InSight's magnetometer will be the first ever used on the surface of Mars. Researchers will use it to investigate variations in the magnetic field, which may be induced at the surface by the variations resulting from interaction of the solar wind with Mars' ionosphere. Effects of the planet's metallic core on the induced magnetic field at the surface could provide information about the size of the core.

The University of California, Los Angeles, provided InSight's fluxgate magnetometer. UCLA has previously provided magnetometers for other NASA missions, including the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Space Technology 5 mission. The instrument can determine both the magnitude and direction of the local magnetic field.

Two finger-size booms mounted on short vertical supports on InSight's deck will monitor atmospheric temperature and the direction and velocity of the wind. The booms face outward in roughly opposite sides of the lander, so that wind from any direction reaches at least one of them before the lander itself perturbs the wind much. Together, they make up the Temperature and Wind for InSight (TWINS) instrument. Each of the booms holds a sensors for recording air temperature and detecting air movement in three dimensions.

Spain's Center for Astrobiology (Centro de Astrobiología, or CAB), Madrid, provided TWINS. The instrument's booms are refurbished flight spares from the CAB-provided weather station on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, called the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station.

InSight's atmospheric pressure sensor sits inside the lander, with access to the atmosphere via an inlet on the lander deck. Tavis Corp., Mariposa, California, built it. The device has more than ten-fold greater sensitivity to pressure variations at seismic frequencies than similar pressure sensors on NASA's Viking and Mars Pathfinder landers.

JPL provided the control and data-acquisition electronics shared by the APSS instruments.

Though not formally part of the APSS, the HP3 radiometer and the color cameras of InSight's Instrument Deployment Subsystem can similarly be used to study the Mars environment. The radiometer can track daily and seasonal changes in ground temperature. The cameras can be used for monitoring changes at the landing site, such as the effect of wind on dust over the course of many months.

Labeled illustration of InSight with its science payload deployed
Labeled illustration of InSight with its science payload deployed. Many of the investigation tools are labeled. SEIS is the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure. HP3 is the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe. RISE is the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment, which uses the lander’s two medium gain antennas. TWINS is the Temperature and Wind for InSight instrument, part of the mission’s Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem, which also includes the magnetometer, the pressure sensor (out of view beneath the pressure inlet). Locations of the lander’s radiometer and laser retroreflector are out of sight, on the other side of the deck. Download image

Laser Retroreflector for Mars

A dome-shaped device about 2 inches (5 centimeters) in diameter and 0.8 inch (2 centimeters) high, affixed to the top of the InSight lander's deck, holds an array of eight special reflectors. This is the Laser Retroreflector for InSight, or LaRRI, which is not part of the InSight mission's own science investigations, but may passively provide science value for many years to come.

The national space agency of Italy (ASI, for Agenzia Spaziale Italiana) provided LaRRI to be used by a possible future Mars orbiter mission with a laser altimeter making extremely precise measurements of the lander's location. Each of the eight reflectors uses three mutually perpendicular mirrors, joining at one point like an inner corner of a box. This gives it the property of returning any incoming light directly back toward its source. Apollo astronauts on the Moon placed larger arrays of similar "corner cube reflectors" at several lunar landing sites more than 45 years ago. These have served ever since in experiments that use precisely timed laser pulses sent from Earth and reflected back, for purposes such as determining the rate of change in the Moon's distance from Earth and testing Einstein's general theory of relativity. Scientists plan to use LaRRI -- plus similar retroreflectors on future missions to land on Mars -- for experiments that use reflection of laser pulses emitted by orbiters. Besides providing precise location information for experiments about gravity and planetary motion, such studies could include investigations of the Martian atmosphere and advances in using laser as an alternative to radio for communications.

Laser Retroreflector for InSight (LaRRI)

Laser Retroreflector for InSight (LaRRI). Download image

InSight Science Team

InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt and InSight Deputy Principal Investigator Sue Smrekar, both of JPL, lead the mission's international science team.

SEIS Principal Investigator Philippe Lognonné of the Institute of Earth Physics of Paris (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, or IPGP) leads the seismic study.

HP3 Principal Investigator is Tilman Spohn, of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, or DLR), Berlin, leads the heat-transport study.

RISE Principal Investigator William Folkner of JPL leads the geodesy study.

  • Sami Asmar
  • Véronique Dehant
    Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels
  • Domenico Giardini
    Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule), Zurich
  • Troy Hudson
  • Günter Kargl
    Austrian Academy of Sciences Space Research Institute (Oesterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften Institut für Weltraumforschung), Graz
  • Antoine Mocquet
    University of Nantes, France
  • Tom Pike
    Imperial College, London
  • Renee Weber
    NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama
  • Don Banfield
    Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
  • Brigitte Endrun-Knapmeyer
  • Matt Golombek
  • Catherine Johnson
    University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
  • Justin Maki
  • Paul Morgan
    Colorado Geological Survey and Colorado School of Mines
  • Chris Russell
  • Mark Wieczorek
    University of Nice
  • Ulrich Christensen
    Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung, or MPS), Göttingen, Germany
  • Raphael Garcia
    National Higher School of Aeronautics and Space (École Nationale Supériere de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace, or ISAE), Toulouse, France
  • Matthias Grott
  • David Mimoun
  • Mark Panning
  • Jeroen Tromp
    Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey