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Mars Lander Arrives At Vandenberg Air Force Base

NASA's InSight mission undergoing preparations in Santa Barbara County for planned March launch which will be the first Mars mission from Vandenberg

A crate containing NASA’s Mars-bound InSight spacecraft is loaded into a C-17 cargo aircraft at Buckley Air Force Base, Denver, for shipment to Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, was shipped Dec. 16, 2015, for launch in March 2016.
A crate containing NASA’s Mars-bound InSight spacecraft is loaded into a C-17 cargo aircraft at Buckley Air Force Base, Denver, for shipment to Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, was shipped Dec. 16, 2015, for launch in March 2016. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin photo)

NASA’s InSight Mars lander journeyed a short step closer to the Red Planet after traveling from Colorado to Vandenberg Air Force Base in anticipation of a March launch.

Lockheed Martin Corp. delivered the 1,380-pound InSight lander Wednesday to Santa Barbara County after a flight on a military transport plane from the Colorado manufacturing plant.

At Vandenberg, InSight will undergo final preparations and testing prior to the launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket scheduled to liftoff between March 4 and March 30.

The unmanned spacecraft is set to land on Mars six months after departing Earth.

“InSight has traveled the first leg of its journey, getting from Colorado to California, and we’re on track to start the next leg, to Mars, with a launch in March,” said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport, is the first Mars mission dedicated to studying the deep interior of the Red Planet, NASA officials said. Scientists say these and other InSight investigations will improve the understanding about the formation and evolution of all rocky planets, including Earth.

It also will be the first Mars mission from Vandenberg.

InSight Mars lander undergoing a solar array deployment test in the MTF clean room at Lockheed Martin. Click to view larger
InSight Mars lander undergoing a solar array deployment test in the MTF clean room at Lockheed Martin. (Patrick H. Corkery / Lockheed Martin photo)

“We’ve worked closely with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to design and build an amazing spacecraft, one that is based on our Mars Phoenix design that successfully landed on Mars in 2008,” said Stu Spath, InSight program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company.

“The spacecraft and its environmental testing are complete, and now the launch team is moving to California to perform final preparations for a March launch.”

InSight was previously scheduled to ship to California in early January, but delivery occurred more than three weeks early to provide more time at the launch site for the integration of the seismometer instrument (SEIS) developed by the French Space Agency, CNES.

Earlier this month, NASA officials said the key science instrument experienced a leak in the vacuum container carrying the main sensors. The sensors must operate in a vacuum within a sealed sphere to provide what officials called “exquisite sensitivity to ground motions as small as the width of an atom.”  

After the final sealing of the sphere, a small leak was detected, NASA officials said, adding it would have prevented meeting the science requirements once delivered to the surface of Mars. 

Installation of the “Send Your Name to Mars” project microchip on the InSight lander. Click to view larger
Installation of the “Send Your Name to Mars” project microchip on the InSight lander. (Patrick H. Corkery / Lockheed Martin photo)

Repair of the leak and additional testing delayed its shipment from France so the instrument will be installed while InSight is at Vandenberg’s Astrotech Space Operations.

Prior to being shipped to Vandenberg, crews completed a unique installation on the InSight lander — a microchip bearing the names of about 827,000 people worldwide who participated in an online “send your name to Mars” activity in August and September 2015.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

A spacecraft specialist in a clean room at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, where the InSight lander is being built, affixes a dime-size chip onto the lander deck in November 2015. This signature chip carries 826,923 names, submitted by the public online from all over the world. Click to view larger
A spacecraft specialist in a clean room at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, where the InSight lander is being built, affixes a dime-size chip onto the lander deck in November 2015. This signature chip carries 826,923 names, submitted by the public online from all over the world. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin photo)
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