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7 minutes of terror: InSight’s Landing

Image Source: https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/280912-nasa-explains-how-it-will-track-insights-mars-landing-next-week


NASA’s InSight spacecraft – the first to study Mars’ deep interior – is nearing the Red Planet. Tonight, InSight is expected to touch down on the surface of Mars around 1:40 am Nepali time. The main gist of InSight is to study the mars vital signs like its pulse and temperature. Until now, NASA’s Landing has mainly been focused on exploring the Mars surface for signs of potential life. But InSight is not a rover and can’t move on purpose, it has got one shot for the perfect landing. No-one would take a chance to gamble around 850 million dollars$ spacecraft. So, the perfect landing site NASA could find was Elysium Planitia. It’s one of the plainest spots and the perfect site for InSight’s Landing.  

It’s really hard to slow down on mars because it has just enough atmosphere that InSight has to deal with. The process begins well before entering the atmosphere. The cruise stage detaches 7 minutes before arriving at the Mars atmosphere. The space capsule has to orient in a manner so that the heat shield is precisely facing the atmosphere. The capsule is moving around 13 thousand miles per hour. The vehicle deaccelerates to about one thousand miles per hour reaching around 10 miles above the surface of Mars. The InSight is packed with a large and strong supersonic parachute. The parachute slows the spacecraft and that’s not enough yet. So, the parachute has to be cut off. And then the rockets come into action above one mile from the surface. Once in action, the rockets must divert the craft. If not so, the craft will smack on the parachute. The rockets have to steer the craft and land. Just at the moment of touchdown, the engine will have to shut down immediately to prevent the overturning of the craft. 

The entry, descent, and landing (EDL) begins when the spacecraft reaches the Martian atmosphere, about 80 miles (about 128 kilometers) above the surface, and ends with the lander safe and sound on the surface of Mars around seven minutes later [1]. The EDL is referred as seven minutes of terror because the Insight will take around seven minutes to descend and land on the mars surface going from 12,300 miles per hour to zero in perfect sequence, and perfect timing and the computer on board has to do it all by itself with no help from the ground. If a single sequence is mistimed, then all the works and efforts till now will be nothing and there’s nothing anyone can do to prevent it.  

By: Utsav Siwakoti 


  1. https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/timeline/landing/entry-descent-landing/ 
  2. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory 

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