NASA’s latest mission to Mars begins tomorrow. ESA deep space ground stations in Australia and South America will track the InSight spacecraft on NASA’s behalf as it begins its cruise to the Red Planet.
Set to be launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base in California on an Atlas V at 1105 UTC (1305 CEST) on Saturday, InSight will bring a lander to Mars to study its interior, with equipment to measure internal heat and detect ‘marsquakes’. InSight’s 485-million km journey to Mars will take about six months, beginning soon after it separates from its launcher in Earth orbit.
Five hours after launch, ESA’s deep space ground station at New Norcia in Western Australia, will pick up the signal from InSight. It will maintain contact as a ‘hot backup’ at the same time as NASA’s own Deep Space Network ground station at Canberra, over on the easterly side of the continent.
Once Canberra loses contact, the 35-m dish antenna at New Norcia will maintain contact with the mission until it vanishes under the horizon. ESA’s second southern-hemisphere deep space ground station at Malargüe in Argentina will pick up the contact two and a half hours after that.
“Our stations at New Norcia and Malargüe will allow NASA to keep in touch with InSight during its critically important ‘launch and early operations’ phase, when the spacecraft systems are first turned on and checked,” explains Daniel Firre, the Agency’s ESA-NASA cross-support service manager. [More at link]