UK celebrates the successful landing of Mars InSight
27 Nov 2018



A new mission to Mars, containing an on-board instrument developed and built by an interdisciplinary UK team that included STFC RAL Space, has successfully landed and will soon begin the first study of the planet’s internal activity.


​​​A​ simulated view of NASA's InSight lander descending towards the surface of Mars on its parachute.​Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech​

The NASA InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations) mission landed on the surface of Mars at 19:53​​ GMT on Monday, 26 November. 

​InSight will study the inside of Mars to understand what processes occur that enable planets, moons and meteorites with rocky surfaces, including the Earth, to form. The lander’s instruments include a seismometer to detect Mars’ seismic vibrations and a probe to monitor the flow of heat beneath the surface of the planet.

D​r Rain Irshad, Autonomous Systems Group Leader at STFC RAL Space said, “I’m thrilled that the landing was so successful – it’s a real testament to the brilliant work that the teams across the US and Europe have put into this project. Now we get to explore the inside of Mars!”​

​The UK Space Agency has invested £4 million in part of the seismic package on board InSight, including three instruments designed and built in the UK. One of its key instruments, called SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure) is accompanied by a secondary UK-built instrument called SEIS-SP (short period seismometer), which was led and developed by Imperial College London and the University of Oxford with support from STFC RAL Space. The instrument team will be joined by UK seismologists to analyse the data from all of the mission’s instruments.

SEIS-SP will sit on the surface of Mars and measure seismic waves from Marsquakes – the Martian equivalent of earthquakes - and meteorite impacts. Potentially, it is thought that between a dozen and a hundred of these tremors, up to 6.0 on the Richter scale, could occur over the course of two years. There could also be possible vibrations detected from the expansion and contraction of rocks as a result of stresses due to temperature changes.   

Mars InSight infographic, highlighting the robotic arm, heat probe and its dimensions
Sue Horne, Head of Space Exploration at the UK Space Agency, said: “It is wonderful news that the InSight spacecraft has landed safely on Mars. The UK scientists and engineers involved in this mission have committed several years of their lives to building the seismometer on board, and the descent is always a worrying time. We can now look forward to the deployment of the instrument and the data that will start to arrive in the New Year, to improve our understanding of how the planet formed.”

The UK team is led by Professor Tom Pike at Imperial, who designed the sensors to withstand the shock and vibration of the launch from Earth and landing on Mars. The sensors can detect motion at sub-atomic scales with the help of the electronics built at Oxford under Dr Simon Calcutt, with support from STFC RAL Space.

​RAL Space provided electronics support, product assurance including planetary protection, instrument science/requirements, participates in the international science team, and will take part in the operations and data processing of the mission.

The lander will take several weeks to deploy two of its three instruments, the seismometer and probe on to the Martian surface. 


Top right: ​​A​ simulated view of NASA's InSight lander descending towards the surface of Mars on its parachute.​Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Bottom: An infographic on Mars InSight. Credit: UKRI (InSight images: NASA​)​