InSight will arrive at Mars on 26 November and will stay for a full Martian year
and then comes home again? Wow!
NASA's Mars InSight will launch from California’s Vandenberg airbase tomorrow morning, with the aim of discovering how rocky planets form. InSight will lift off at 1105 UTC and is intended to be the first mission to peer beneath the Martian surface, studying the planet's interior by measuring its heat output and listening for …
The Bring Back Rocks From Mars mission according to The Independent article I read ( https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/nasa-esa-mars-mission-red-planet-alien-life-proof-habitable-world-rock-a8324901.html )
will be a three bird mission; one to collect the rocks, one to pick them up and put them into Mars orbit and a third to take them from orbit back to Earth.
I hope I am still around for that, it would be something all these years after the moon rocks to see something man has brought back from another planet.
Even if it is via a proxy robot or two.
Any idea why it's being launched from Vandenberg? Vandenberg is usually used for polar orbits. They really can't take advantage of the Earth's rotation from there, since that would require launching the rocket towards the east, which is over populated areas, which is a no-no. Thus, the only objects launched from there tend to be reconnaissance satellites which need to be in a polar orbit. American interplanetary craft tend to be launched from the Kennedy Space Center, to take advantage of the Earth's rotation, to get into a transfer orbit, from which they're injected into a Hohmann Transfer Orbit to the other planet.
P.S. I'll get my coat; It's the one with a rocket in the pocket.
This was originally scheduled to be launched in 2016, but a problem with one of the instruments caused it to miss the 2016 window. At the time it looked like the eastern range (Basically KSC and in the Atlas's case, CCAFS) would have scheduling issues so they moved it to Vandenberg. Now the eastern range is even busier so it was kept at VFB.
The mission was originally sized for a Delta II, but they have been just about retired, last one is launched in September from VFB and the Delta II pad at CCAFS had been decommissioned, so the Atlas V 401 was selected, which is a lot more powerful vehicle, so does not need the assist of being launched to the east to send InSight to Mars. InSight is about 850Kg, the 401 can launch about 2000Kg from VFB to Mars.
Which is where the sterling work of the Reg Standards Bureau comes in - no risk of mixing up metric and imperial...
Still difficult as the article references the "briefcase-sized spacecraft" only briefcase is not a standard measurement. I did in-depth research on the subject and found that a briefcase may range in volume from a little over 6 to right at 13 Bulgarian funbags. The engineers need to be careful with this or the whole thing could be a bust!
Which is a bit ironic given the stage was called Centaur because it had two heads (engines).
A 401 is pretty much the baby Atlas V.
Which means there is less to go wrong, which is very attractive on a long ride to Mars. And it's cheaper. All of which are pretty attractive features.
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