The mission team hopes to use Insight’s last-minute powers to collect important scientific data.

Marslander Insight is dying. NASA announced this last month. The lander, which has been investigating the internal structure of Mars for several years, is gradually losing power due to the accumulation of dust on the solar panels. The plan was therefore to switch off the seismometer that the lander is equipped with at the end of this month. But the mission team has changed their mind. “Insight isn’t finished yet,” said NASA’s Lori Glaze.

What is going on?
Last month, NASA announced that Marslander Insight has only a few months to live. The reason is the loss of power due to the accumulation of dust on the solar panels of the lander. Insight is equipped with two solar panels, each about 2.2 meters wide. When the Mars lander arrived on Mars in November 2018, these solar panels produced about 5,000 watt-hours per Mars day – also called sol (1 Mars day corresponds to 1 Earth day and 39 min). For your imaging, that’s enough to power an electric oven for an hour and 40 minutes. But Mars is a dusty planet. And that dust has also settled on Insight’s solar panels. It means his solar panels produced just 500 watt-hours per sol last month — enough to power the same electric oven for just 10 minutes. In the coming time, the Marslander will lose more and more power and go out like a night candle.

Marslander Insight’s power is decreasing day by day. At this moment all instruments except the seismometer are already switched off. As said, the work of the seismometer would be stopped at the end of June. In this way, the lander would still have to live until the end of this year and, for example, can occasionally send a photo to Earth. But the mission team has now announced that they are revising the mission timeline.


Marslander Insight will still hunt for marsquakes after June, on its last strength. “We want to gather every last bit of science before the lander shuts down,” Glaze says. The team will reprogram the lander to keep the seismometer running for as long as possible. This means that the seismometer will be in operation until the end of August or at most the beginning of September.

High price

However, this decision comes at a high price. Running the seismometer longer will cause the lander’s batteries to discharge faster. This means that the spacecraft is more likely to run out of power. And so the entire mission of Insight will also come to an end earlier.


Still, the team suspects this is the best choice. By keeping the seismometer in operation for longer, the researchers hope to be able to detect additional marsquakes as well. “The goal is to collect as much scientific data as possible to the point that Insight stops functioning altogether, rather than saving energy and running the lander with no scientific benefit,” said Chuck Scott, InSight’s project manager.

The mission of InSight (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) was an exciting one, which exceeded all expectations. Since its arrival on the red planet in 2018, the lander has detected more than 1,300 Marsquakes using its seismometer, providing important information about the depth and composition of the Martian crust, mantle and core. With the other instruments, Insight has collected vital weather data, surveyed the soil beneath the lander, and studied remnants of Mars’ ancient magnetic field. And so the team can look back on Insight’s working life with pride; a mission that taught us a lot about our close, but still mysterious neighbor.