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SEIS on Mars: First Results

SEIS on Mars: a review following publication of the first results

SEIS, the first broadband seismometer on Mars, has been patiently listening to the Red Planet’s activities day in, day out for almost one year now. Following the InSight lander’s touchdown on Elysium Planitia on 26 November 2018 and the seismometer’s deployment on the Martian surface between December 2018 and February 2019, the instrument has detected over 300 events and provided planetary scientists with numerous results. Forty-four years after the Viking probes’ first heroic attempt, SEIS has just allowed a new planetary discipline—Martian seismology—to finally see the light of day.

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A second landing for the SEIS seismometer

The InSight lander successfully places the SEIS seismometer on the Martian surface

NASA has succeeded in setting down on Mars the InSight probe’s seismometer. This is the first time in the history of spaceflight that an instrument has been deployed by a robotic arm (IDA) on the surface of another planet. The success of what is a critical step for the rest of the mission is the result of years of unrelenting technical efforts by US, French and European teams.

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The historic night when SEIS was set down on Mars

The historic night when SEIS was set down on Mars

The historic night when SEIS was set down on Mars (#1)
The historic night when SEIS was set down on Mars (#2)
The historic night when SEIS was set down on Mars (#3)
The historic night when SEIS was set down on Mars (#4)
The historic night when SEIS was set down on Mars (#5)
The historic night when SEIS was set down on Mars (#6)
 

On the evening of 19 December 2018, NASA’s InSight lander marked the history of space exploration by becoming the first interplanetary exploration spacecraft ever to have placed a scientific instrument on the surface of another planet using its robotic instrument deployment arm (IDA).

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Reproducing Mars on Earth

InSight instrument deployment area replicated on Earth

Shortly after landing on 26 November 2018, the InSight lander began detailed mapping of the few square metres of terrain southward and just in front of the robotic IDA used to deploy its two main instruments. Using the instrument deployment camera (IDC) on the robotic IDA, the lander methodically swept the sector where the SEIS seismometer and the HP3 heat flow sensor were going to be set down, downlinking numerous data to project engineers and geologists.

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Successful launch of the InSight probe on 5 May 2018

InSight blasts its way through the fog

InSight Atlas V 401 Launcher Assembly
InSight Atlas V 401 Launcher Assembly
InSight Atlas V 401 Launcher Assembly
InSight Atlas V 401 Launcher Assembly
InSight Atlas V 401 Launcher Assembly
InSight Atlas V 401 Launcher Assembly

All space missions have a long and complex history—sometimes spanning decades—marked by the numerous technical, scientific, financial or organizational obstacles they have to overcome. Yet everything converges towards one critical step without which nothing can happen, and which teams work towards with a mixture of great pride and nagging anxiety: the launch.

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A Martian seismometer under the Black Forest

The SEIS Martian seismometer was successfully tested at Germany’s Black Forest Observatory

Test campaign at the Black Forest Observatory (Germany) #1
Test campaign at the Black Forest Observatory (Germany) #1
Test campaign at the Black Forest Observatory (Germany) #1
Test campaign at the Black Forest Observatory (Germany) #1
Test campaign at the Black Forest Observatory (Germany) #1
Test campaign at the Black Forest Observatory (Germany) #1

From 12 to 16 March 2018, an international team of engineers and geophysicists carried out performance tests on the qualification model of the SEIS seismometer planned to be deployed in November 2018 by the InSight lander on Mars.

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Finding the true north on Mars

The SEIS seismometer is fitted with a solar compass to find the geographic north

Despite the incredible complexity of Martian probes that have landed on Mars, it is by no means easy to find the Red Planet’s geographic north! To obtain the accuracy required of SEIS during its operation, seismologists need to know exactly where it is located and which direction it is facing following its deployment on the Martian soil by InSight’s robotic arm, the IDA, on 19 December 2018. However, a conventional compass is useless on Mars.

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SEIS commissioning

The SEIS seismometer’s commissioning on Mars

The SEIS seismometer’s commissioning period, which began once the wind and thermal shield (WTS) had been placed in position on Saturday 2 February 2019, ended on 5 April 2019. During this period, several crucial operations were successfully carried out on the seismic sensors, and especially the VBB pendulums.

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SEIS’s deployment on Mars (III)

Deployment of the first seismometer on the Martian surface by the InSight lander (part III)

In the first two parts of this series of articles on the deployment of the SEIS seismometer on Mars, we saw first the instrument’s levelling, then the centring of the VBB pendulums, and finally the different steps needed to correctly deploy the ribbon cable (tether) that connects the seismometer to the InSight lander. This third and final part focuses on the critical positioning of the wind and thermal shield (WTS), which was successfully completed on 2 February 2019 during sol 66.

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SEIS’s deployment on Mars (II)

Deployment of the first seismometer on the Martian surface by the InSight lander (part II)

The first part of this series of articles on the deployment of SEIS on Mars covered the instrument’s levelling, the centring of the VBB pendulums, and the first steps needed to correctly install the ribbon cable (tether) that connects the seismometer to the InSight lander. This second part focuses on the optimized deployment of the tether, which was far from easy considering it was done via a robot on a different planet! Before focusing on this key operation, however, let us finish looking at the end of the levelling operations.

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SEIS’s deployment on Mars (I)

Deployment of the first seismometer on the Martian surface by the InSight lander (part I)

Following the successful positioning of the SEIS seismometer on InSight’s landing site on 19 December 2018, mission engineers and scientists completed several key steps in this exceptional instrument’s commissioning process. Whether on Earth or Mars, the quality of a seismometer’s installation is crucial for it to operate at its best. On the Red Planet, however, operations have to be carried out remotely by robotic devices, which requires a combination of great expertise, care and... as you will see, a good dose of patience!

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