NASA’s next Mars mission set for 2016

NASA’s announced plans for another visit to Mars, this time to check out its interior.

The new mission, named InSight, will launch in 2016 for a two-year mission to investigate whether the planet’s core is solid or liquid, and why its crust isn’t divided into drifting tectonic plates like Earth’s.

“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,” says NASA administrator Charles Bolden.

“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 build upon spacecraft technology used in NASA’s 2007Phoenix lander mission, which established that water existed near the surface in the Martian polar regions.

It’s a low-risk, low-cost mission: the cost, excluding the launch vehicle and related services, has been capped at $425 million in 2010 dollars.

InSight will carry four instruments. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)  will provide an onboard geodetic instrument to determine Mars’s rotation axis, as well as a robotic arm and two cameras used to deploy and monitor instruments on the Martian surface.

Meanwhile, the French space agency, Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales,  is leading an international consortium that’s building an instrument to measure seismic waves traveling through the planet’s interior.

The German Aerospace Center is building a subsurface heat probe to measure the flow of heat from the interior.

“Our Discovery Program enables scientists to use innovative approaches to answering fundamental questions about our solar system in the lowest cost mission category,” says 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.”