The first is a seismometer whose development was led by the French space agency CNES in collaboration with several other countries, including the US. It is sensitive enough to detect ground movements that are only half the diameter of a hydrogen atom, and its main goal is to record “marsquakes” (seismic waves) or meteor impacts, which will help reveal information about the interior layers of Mars.
The second is a heat probe that can burrow approximately three to five meters (10 to 16 feet) below the surface to measure how much energy comes from the planet’s interior.
RELATED: It's Snowing on Mars at Night, Research Suggests
The goal is to better learn how terrestrial planets such as Venus, Earth, and Mars were formed. Mars gives a special advantage to this kind of investigation because, unlike Earth, plate tectonics (which generate earthquakes, among other phenomena) don’t appear to be active on the planet.
“Because the interior of Mars has churned much less than Earth’s in the past three billion years, Mars likely preserves evidence about rocky planets’ infancy better than our home planet does,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
The project’s third main experimental component will use radio transmissions between Mars and Earth to investigate changes in how Mars rotates on its axis. This could reveal information about the size of the Red Planet’s core.
RELATED: The Mars Colony of the Future Could Be Powered by This Advanced Microgrid
When a mission to Mars gets delayed by more than a few weeks, it has to wait another 26 months to launch. That’s because the orbits of Earth and Mars bring the two planets into a favorable position to launch spacecraft – when the planets are relatively close to one another, which saves on spacecraft fuel and travel time – only for a few weeks every 26 months.
The InSight mission’s 26-month delay came in part due to orbital geometry as well as because of a technical issue. NASA called off the planned March 2016 launch after discovering a leak in a container surrounding the seismometer’s main sensors; the container was supposed to maintain a near-vacuum around these sensors. A new vacuum vessel was delivered in July and installed.
“We have fixed the problem we had two years ago, and we are eagerly preparing for launch,” said Tom Hoffman, InSight project manager at JPL.
WATCH: The Plan to Get to Mars in Three Days, Explained