To that end, the team now plans to program the lander to run the seismometers for longer periods of time — perhaps until late August or early September. Doing so would discharge the lander’s batteries faster, which would cause the spacecraft to run out of power at that point as well, but it could allow seismometers to detect more Martian quakes.
“InSight hasn’t done its job of giving us an understanding of Mars. We’re going to get the last bit of science we can get before the lander ends its operation,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.
The Insight team will answer questions directly from people during a live event on YouTube on June 28 at 3 p.m. ET. Questions can be asked with the hashtag #AskNASA.
InSight is on an extended mission after achieving its scientific goals. The lander has detected more than 1,300 Martian earthquakes since touching down on Mars in 2018, and the information it provides has allowed scientists to measure the depth and composition of the Martian crust, mantle and inner core. With other instruments, InSight recorded valuable weather data, surveyed the soil beneath the lander and studied remnants of Mars’ ancient magnetic field.
Except for the seismograph, all instruments have been powered off. Like other Mars spacecraft, InSight has a failsafe system that automatically triggers a “safe mode” in the event of a threat and shuts down all but the most basic functions to allow engineers to assess the situation. Safe mode is triggered by low power and temperature drift outside predetermined limits.
To keep the seismometers running for as long as possible, the mission team is shutting down InSight’s failsafe systems. While this would allow the instrument to run for longer, it would leave the lander unprotected in the event of a sudden, unexpected event that ground controllers would not have time to react to.
InSight project manager Chuck Scott said the goal was to get scientific data — until InSight was completely inoperable — not to save energy.