New Images Show InSight Lander Powering Up While Its Companions Leave Mars Behind

The Instrument Deployment Camera, located on the robotic arm of NASA's InSight lander, took this picture of the Martian surface after touchdown. NASA/JPL-Caltech

After a few months of traveling and "seven minutes of terror", InSight has landed safely in Elysium Planitia, a flat plain near the Martian equator. The team celebrated the successful start to the mission and a few hours after it landed, they received confirmation that the solar panels had been deployed and the lander was operating according to plan.

"The InSight team can rest a little easier tonight now that we know the spacecraft solar arrays are deployed and recharging the batteries," Tom Hoffman, InSight's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. "It's been a long day for the team. But tomorrow begins an exciting new chapter for InSight: surface operations and the beginning of the instrument deployment phase."

With the two twin solar panels fully extended the lander is roughly 6 meters (19.7 feet) across and has a 2.4-meter (7.9-foot) robotic arm. The science module only makes up a quarter of the total length, but the lander needs some big solar panels because Mars gets a lot less light than Earth. That said, the lander is designed to be quite efficient. The solar panels will provide between 600 and 700 watts of energy on a clear day (enough to power a blender) and between 200 and 300 watts if the panels become covered in dust. This will be plenty to guarantee continuous operation for a full Mars year, which is roughly equivalent to two years on Earth.

InSight's landing also marks another successful achievement for NASA, the use of the two MarCO (Mars Cube One) satellites. MarCO-A and MarCO-B are two CubeSats, nano-spacecraft roughly the size of a shoebox. But don’t judge them by their diminutive size. They have provided a great deal of assistance to the InSight mission. These small crafts were able to provide real-time communication and data to Earth during the lander’s entry, descent, and successful landing on the planet.

Mars seen in MarCO-B’s rearview mirror as it leaves the Red Planet behind. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The two MarCO craft, nicknamed after Pixar’s robots EVE and WALL-E, only flew past Mars and are now in elliptical orbit around the Sun. The team thinks that they will continue to work for a few weeks before their electronics give up.

The team expects the full suite of scientific instruments to take two to three months to be fully deployed. In the meantime, the lander is using its magnetometer and weather sensor to study its new home on the Red Planet.

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