Here’s how NASA will attempt to land on the red planet Monday

Here’s how NASA will attempt to land on the red planet Monday

The probe will attempt a landing on Monday, Nov. 26, at around 3pm ET (20:00 UTC).

In October 2016, the European Space Agency lost its ExoMars Schiaparelli craft during an attempted Mars landing.

If successful, the entry, descent and landing of the Mars InSight - created to be the first mission to listen to the interior of another planet and reveal how rocky planets formed - will add another success to NASA's record when it comes to sending spacecraft to Mars.

"Previous missions haven't gone more than skin-deep at Mars", Sue Smrekar, the InSight mission's deputy principal investigator, noted.

These are predictions for the details of InSight's landing that project managers made several weeks ago. That spacecraft landed at the north pole of Mars, studied the planet's water cycle, and even observed snowfall.

The InSight lander is expected to touch down at about 8pm GMT on Monday, and multiple critical steps will need to work perfectly.

There are two almost identical MarCO spacecraft that launched with InSight last May, and have been trailing the probe on its flight to Mars. If InSight comes into too shallow, the spacecraft could skip off the thin atmosphere, and an entry angle that is too steep would produce too much thermal heating.

Artist's rendering of the MarCO-A and MarCO-B cubesats, flying through space to Mars. Lockheed was the prime contractor for the entire spacecraft, including the landing system. 'We've had a number of successful landings in a row now.

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It will touch down on a flat, smooth plain close to the planet's equator called the Elysium Planitia - a place where oddball alien hunters claim to have spotted a "crashed UFO" and an "extraterrestrial city". After that, NASA hopes to use InSight to decode the internal structure of Mars, among other mysteries. And although it is dust storm season on Mars, there are presently no dust storms raging across the surface.

The InSight mission cost about $814 million, including the launch costs; France and Germany invested about $180 million.

NASA and Lockheed engineers won't know right away whether the spacecraft has made it safely down to the surface-there is a time delay of 8.1 minutes for communications between Earth and Mars at present. They will also send last-minute tweaks to the software on the spacecraft that controls the landing, based on estimates of the amount of dust in the Martian atmosphere. (If no signal is received, that obviously would be very bad indeed).

The unmanned spacecraft launched almost seven months ago, and is NASA's first to attempt to touch down on Earth's neighboring planet since the Curiosity rover arrived in 2012. The landing team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif worked through the weekend monitoring weather reports from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It just takes that smidgen of luck, as well, that the lander experiences nothing unexpected, on the way down.

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) provided a self-hammering mole that can burrow 16 feet (five meters) into the surface - further than any instrument before - to measure heat flow.

When it lands six-and-half minutes later, it will be travelling a mere 8kmh.

NASA will provide a livestream of the landing, beginning at 11 a.m.

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