Atlas 5 successfully launches Mars lander InSight


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ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket early this morning successfully launched NASA’s newest Mars lander InSight.

InSight will drill a seismic probe into the Martian surface and monitor earthquake activity. This will be the first time such monitoring will occur, and the probe is planned to do it for at least two years.

The launch puts the U.S. back in a tie with China for the lead in launches this year. The standings:

13 China
8 SpaceX
5 Russia
5 ULA

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11 comments

  • Localfluff

    The launch looked like a curse spelled by the wicked witches of the East, performing their magic spells in foggy England. I thought California was always clear sky.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKQ-6WCbHis

  • Localfluff

    The thing really seems to be on the right trajectory now, with little happening for the next 6½ months. I’m surprised that both cubesats were released already, left to themselves for any course correction or communication needs. I thought they would enjoy the company and services of the mother ship until approaching Mars on batteries.

    “Mother ship approaching Mars”? We’re not apes anymore. Apes pick flees. We’re the masters of the universe! While an ape is happy for a banana, one world is not big enough for us. The only thing wrong with geocentrism is that it isn’t geocentric enough! This here where we stand today, is where everything began one day, our day. And it will never go away. The entire galaxy will learn about us, its master for ever after. And so be it.

  • mivenho

    Perhaps NASA should deploy a constellation of CubeSats in orbit around Mars for data relay and monitoring

  • wayne

    LocalFluff–
    What is Tule Fog?
    https://youtu.be/ZkrSlZAvxGI
    (1:21)

  • Dick Eagleson

    Here’s a better explanation in which the explainer also pronounces the word correctly (it’s pronounced TOOL-y, not as a homonym of Tool).

    But tule fog is pretty much an inland phenomenon. It is seriously dense and can form in very small patches that can be as little as ten yards or so across in slight topographic dips measurable in as little as a foot or so. I lived in the Santa Clarita Valley in a place called Newhall when I first came to California. I worked a few miles away in another little town called Saugus. The road between these two places was prone to small patches of tule fog part of the year.

    But tule fog is not what you see at Vandy. “Coastal low fog” as it’s generally referred to in SoCal weather reports, is just what you would think – ground-level fog right along stretches of coastline. The launch pads at Vandy are right on the water. Coastal low fog is endemic there.

  • Localfluff

    Why do they need visibility for a rocket launch?

  • Kirk

    Did the Centaur upper stage conduct a disposal burn de-targeting Mars, or did it just blow down tanks in such a way that, with no mid-course corrections, makes it very unlikely to hit mars on its first pass?

    In either case, I would expect that the probability of its orbit being perturbed such that it hits Mars sometime in the next million years is greater than that of the Falcon Heavy upper stage and Roadster, but I’m sure we won’t hear any planetary protection concerns about the Centaur being insufficiently decontaminated.

  • Kirk

    Found some relevant information from this NSF article: https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2018/05/atlas-v-first-interplanetary-west-coast-launch-insight-mars/4/

    “With its primary mission complete, Centaur performed a blowdown beginning one hour, 59 minutes and 39.8 seconds after liftoff [26 minutes after payload separation]. This passivated the stage and vent any remaining propellant. For Atlas V, the mission officially ended after two hours, 41 minutes and 19.8 seconds, with Centaur remaining in orbit around the Sun. The initial deployment orbit is designed to ensure that Centaur does not impact Mars – protecting the planet from any possible contamination – with the three spacecraft performing course correction maneuvers a few days after launch to put them on course for the Red Planet.”

    Still, I would expect an eventual Centaur impact on Mars to be more likely than the out-of-plane Roadster.

  • Edward

    Localfluff asked: “Why do they need visibility for a rocket launch?

    Although I have never been a launch engineer, I will try to play one on the internet.

    It may be that visibility is greatly desired in order to facilitate possible accident investigations. You may have noticed that there are many camera angles on a rocket launch. There are more angles than are usually used in a broadcast, because the engineers want as much coverage as possible in order to analyse any accident. For instance, the Challenger accident investigators had a camera angle that showed the solid rocket booster leaking early in the launch.

    The launch of Mercury-Atlas 1 ended after about a minute, right at max-Q, but overcast prevented investigators from being able to see what went wrong.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury-Atlas_1

    Because the day was rainy and overcast with thick clouds, the booster had been out of sight from T+26 seconds and it was impossible to see what happened. A number of Mercury engineers had voiced their objection to launching on July 29 because of the weather precluding visual coverage of the flight.

    Since the Atlas rocket was already proven to work (or maybe it was only thought to work), there was not as much telemetry instrumentation as on a development rocket. That may not have mattered so much anyway, as much of the telemetry stopped at the time of the incident.

    I like this example because it occurred at max-Q, which helps to explain why this event is still noted during launch broadcasts.

  • Edward

    I knew that I had seen this somewhere. Why is it only after I hit the submit button that I find it?

    A couple of decades ago, two Soyuz U rockets (failures 20 & 21 on Douglas Messier’s list) failed because the fairings disintegrated in flight. This may or may not have been near the Max-Q, but my bet is that it was.
    http://www.parabolicarc.com/2018/03/26/russian-launch-failures-arent-bug-theyre-feature/

  • Kirk

    ULA just released their RocketCam footage for this flight, showing both lower stage and Centaur engine views as well as payload separation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02mEFLOsMHM

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