NASA has selected United Launch Services LLC of Centennial, Colo., to launch the Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to Mars. InSight will launch in March 2016 aboard an Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex 3E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
InSight is scheduled to land on Mars in September 2016 to begin a two-year science mission. InSight is a lander that will address one of the most fundamental issues of planetary and solar system science — understanding the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system more than 4 billion years ago. The mission will investigate the interior structure and processes of Mars to understand better the evolution of rocky planets such as Earth. InSight will perform this science using two instrument packages.
“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,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “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.”
InSight will be led by W. Bruce Banerdt at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. InSight’s science team includes U.S. and international co-investigators from universities, industry and government agencies. The French space agency Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales, or CNES, and the German Aerospace Center are contributing instruments to InSight, which is scheduled to land on Mars in September 2016 to begin its two-year scientific mission.
InSight is the 12th selection in NASA’s series of Discovery-class missions. Created in 1992, the Discovery Program sponsors frequent, cost-capped solar system exploration missions with highly focused scientific goals. NASA requested Discovery mission proposals in June 2010 and received 28. InSight was one of three proposed missions selected in May 2011 for funding to conduct preliminary design studies and analyses. The other two proposals were for missions to a comet and Saturn’s moon Titan.
InSight builds on spacecraft technology used in NASA’s highly successful Phoenix lander mission, which was launched to the Red Planet in 2007 and determined water existed near the surface in the Martian polar regions. By incorporating proven systems in the mission, the InSight team demonstrated that the mission concept was low-risk and could stay within the cost-constrained budget of Discovery missions. The cost of the mission, excluding the launch vehicle and related services, is capped at $425 million in 2010 dollars.
“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.”
The total cost for NASA to launch InSight is approximately $160 million, including spacecraft processing, payload integration, tracking, data and telemetry, and other launch support requirements.
NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for management and oversight of the Atlas V launch services. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., provides management for the InSight mission. United Launch Services LLC operates as a subsidiary of United Launch Alliance.
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