On Monday, November 26th, NASA’s newest piece of high-tech space hardware will finally find its way to the surface of Mars. It’s the InSight lander, and it’s going to listen closely to the heartbeat of the planet and hopefully reveal a whole bunch of awesome secrets about Mars, but before it does that, it needs to actually, well, land.
NASA will be live streaming a feed from mission control, offering commentary and updates on the status of the mission in real time. If you just can’t wait for the big day to come, NASA just published a timeline of when it expects to reach specific points in the landing process, right down to the minute, and it’s quite interesting.
It all begins at 2:40 p.m. EST, with the separation of the lander from the rocket stage that pushed it all the way to Mars, and that’s when the real fun begins. Here’s a full breakdown, via NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
- 11:40 a.m. PST (2:40 p.m. EST) – Separation from the cruise stage that carried the mission to Mars
- 11:41 a.m. PST (2:41 p.m. EST) – Turn to orient the spacecraft properly for atmospheric entry
- 11:47 a.m. PST (2:47 p.m. EST) – Atmospheric entry at about 12,300 mph (19,800 kph), beginning the entry, descent and landing phase
- 11:49 a.m. PST (2:49 p.m. EST) – Peak heating of the protective heat shield reaches about 2,700°F (about 1,500°C)
- 15 seconds later – Peak deceleration, with the intense heating causing possible temporary dropouts in radio signals
- 11:51 a.m. PST (2:51 p.m. EST) – Parachute deployment
- 15 seconds later – Separation from the heat shield
- 10 seconds later – Deployment of the lander’s three legs
- 11:52 a.m. PST (2:52 p.m. EST) – Activation of the radar that will sense the distance to the ground
- 11:53 a.m. PST (2:53 p.m. EST) – First acquisition of the radar signal
- 20 seconds later – Separation from the back shell and parachute
- 0.5 second later – The retrorockets, or descent engines, begin firing
- 2.5 seconds later – Start of the “gravity turn” to get the lander into the proper orientation for landing
- 22 seconds later – InSight begins slowing to a constant velocity (from 17 mph to a constant 5 mph, or from 27 kph to 8 kph) for its soft landing
- 11:54 a.m. PST (2:54 p.m. EST) – Expected touchdown on the surface of Mars
- 12:01 p.m. PST (3:01 p.m. EST) – “Beep” from InSight’s X-band radio directly back to Earth, indicating InSight is alive and functioning on the surface of Mars
- No earlier than 12:04 p.m. PST (3:04 p.m. EST), but possibly the next day – First image from InSight on the surface of Mars
- No earlier than 5:35 p.m. PST (8:35 p.m. EST) – Confirmation from InSight via NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter that InSight’s solar arrays have deployed
As you can see from the schedule, the entire landing process is going to take several hours to complete, and there are lots of places where something could go awry. NASA has a remarkable track record of successful Mars landings so we’re not anticipating any mishaps, but JPL’s mission control will be at the edge of its seat the entire time.