NASA’s $850M Martian Hammer


The successful placement of NASA’s InSight Lander on Mars made headlines around the world. And although it’s a tremendous accomplishment, getting the Lockheed Martin-made craft to the red planet was only the first step.

Now, its real mission begins. Among other instrument packages, this entails the use of an $850 million hammer drill that will be used to explore the inner depths of Mars. Whereas the Curiosity Rover’s job was to explore the terrain and provide images of the planet’s environment, it never dug more than a half-inch into the ground.

From InSight’s location at Elysium Planitia near Mars’ equator, it will use the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package of its payload to burrow as deep as 16 feet into the Martian terrain. Provided by the German Aerospace Center, the HP3 works kind of like a self-hammering nail. 

Dubbed “the mole” by its creators, the self-penetrating heat flow probe uses power gathered by its attached solar panels to basically pound itself into the ground. A trailing tether with embedded heat sensors will measure how efficiently heat flows through Mars' surface. These sensors are located at 4 inch intervals on the tether.

At regular intervals, the InSight will also displace heat throughout the Martian soil. By analyzing the speed at which this heat dissipates in the ground around it, scientists can get a better idea about Martian soil chemical composition. As "the mole" penetrates the Martian soil, it will also send vibrations through the ground that scientists can study in getting a better feel for Mars’ different geological layers. So, if Mars has underground lava flows or natural resources, those vibrations will help identify them.

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