The InSight lander arrived at Mars on June 26, 2018. Since then, it has accomplished significant milestones like detecting the first recorded “Marsquake” and inserting a thermometer into Mars to take its temperature.
On December 21, 2022, NASA has declared the InSight mission over after the Jet Propulsion Laboratory lost contact with the lander. Engineers for the InSight team say the lander’s solar-powered batteries ran out of power due to the declining effectiveness of its solar panels. At first, they tried to use the robotic arm and its scoop to clear dust from the solar panels. However, it proved to be a losing proposition in the long run.
NASA had previously decided to declare the mission over if InSight failed to reply to two consecutive attempts to contact it. The InSight team anticipated that the lander would lose power due to a thickening layer of Martian dust on its solar panels.
Its sensitive seismometer detected more than 1,300 quakes on the Martian surface and even detected the seismic signature of a meteroid impact on Mars’ surface. The meteoroid impact was confirmed by cameras on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which detected a newly formed crater on the Martian surface. This unique discovery showed how different Martian exploration missions can work together to make new discoveries.
“With InSight, seismology was the focus of a mission beyond Earth for the first time since the Apollo missions, when astronauts brought seismometers to the Moon,” said Philippe Lognonné, principle investigator for the seismic activity detector, Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS). France’s space agency provided the SEIS instrument.
Another important instrument was the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), which consisted of a pike meant to drive down into the Martian surface by up to five meters, towing a tether capable of picking up heat with it. The instrument provided data about the thermodynamics under the Martian surface, but not without drama. Soon after landing on Mars, InSight’s control team had difficulty deploying HP3 due to an unexpected deposit of clumpy soil. The team ended up having to use InSight’s robotic arm to hammer it into the Martian surface.
As part of preparations for the end of the InSight mission, the team made scientific data from its instruments available for researchers around the world. Like many scientific missions, the data it produced could lead to scientific discoveries for years after the mission ended. However, InSight will definitely be missed.
“We’ve thought of InSight as our friend and colleague on Mars for the past four years, so it’s hard to say goodbye,” said InSight principle investigator Bruce Banerdt.
JPL will continue to listen for a signal from InSight. However, it isn’t hoping for much now that InSight has already failed to communicate twice. NASA declared the mission over.