Nick Warner, SUNY Geneseo
The InSight mission to Mars: A geologist's approach to landing site evaluation
The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to Mars is scheduled to land on November, 26th 2018. It is a NASA Discovery class lander mission designed to investigate the interior structure of Mars and to understand the formation and differentiation of terrestrial planets. The mission is solar powered and is equipped with a seismometer (SEIS instrument) for evaluation of the internal structure, heat flow probe (HP3) to estimate the internal heat flux and a precision tracking system (RISE) to measure the size and state of the core, mantle, and crust. The landing site evaluation required 6 years, and involved multiple engineers and scientists to certify a suitable location. This talk will discuss the engineering and science requirements for landing InSight on Mars as well as the geology and surface characteristics of the landing site. The landing site was restricted to a narrow latitudinal band of 15°S–5°N for solar power and thermal management considerations and an elevation of -2.5 km below the planetary datum for sufficient atmosphere to slow the lander. Other regional requirements included the thermal inertia of the surface, dust index, slope, local relief, rock abundance and the presence of a 3 to 5 m thick, loosely-consolidated regolith for successful penetration of the heat flow probe. The final landing site was chosen in western Elysium Planitia. Landing models determined a landing ellipse size of 130 km by 27 km for a ballistic entry and descent into the martian atmosphere. Geologic mapping and terrain analysis determined that the ellipse was covered in a smooth, cratered-plains unit with a moderate albedo, low rock abundance (~2 - 4%), and moderate thermal inertia (~180 Jm−2 K−1 s−1/2). An evaluation of impact crater ejecta properties and depth/diameter relationships indicated the presence of a 2 to 5 m thick loose, granular regolith that is suitable for the heat flow probe.
Nick Warner is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at SUNY Geneseo. He is also a participating scientist on the InSight mission to Mars and former postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He graduated with a PhD from Arizona State University in 2008 and is an alumnus of SUNY Geneseo.