(Sen) - Following the successful landing of Curiosity on Mars, NASA has announced a follow up Martian mission due to launch in 2016.
The rover is called InSight, and its primary mission will be to investigate the interior of Mars, such as whether the core is solid or liquid. A deeper understanding of the interior of the red planet will help scientists to refine theories on terrestrial planet formation.
W. Bruce Banerdt at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will lead the mission, which will also incorporate international co-investigators. The French space agency Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and the German space agency Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) will be working on instruments needed for InSight.
NASA had planned to work with the European Space Agency (ESA) on another future Mars mission, known as ExoMars, also due to launch in 2016. However NASA withdrew its support for the European mission, prompting ESA to partner with Russia’s space agency Roscosmos to continue with ExoMars.
"The exploration of Mars is a top priority for NASA, and the selection of InSight ensures we will continue to unlock the mysteries of the Red Planet and lay the groundwork for a future human mission there," said Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator. "The recent successful landing of the Curiosity rover has galvanized public interest in space exploration and today's announcement makes clear there are more exciting Mars missions to come."
The technology of InSight will be based on NASA’s Phoenix lander, which landed on Mars in 2008 and successfully detected water near the Martian poles. Using proven technology will help to keep the costs down on the InSight mission. The mission budget, excluding launch, is capped at $425 million in 2010 dollars.
InSight will be equipped with four scientific instruments. It will have a robotic arm with two cameras, and a geodetic instrument used to measure the rotation axis of Mars, both constructed by JPL. CNES will be building a seismic wave detectors, and the DLR will be constructing a subsurface heat probe.
InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery program, and will be the 12th Discovery-class mission since 1992. Discovery aims to explore the Solar System with highly focussed missions at a reasonable cost. InSight was selected in May 2011, along with a mission to a comet and a mission to Saturn’s moon Titan.
"Our Discovery Program enables scientists to use innovative approaches to answering fundamental questions about our Solar System in the lowest cost mission category," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. "InSight will get to the 'core' of the nature of the interior and structure of Mars, well below the observations we've been able to make from orbit or the surface."