Digging Deep with InSight

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

NASA (and DLR) will soon be breaking new lows on Mars with the deployment of InSight’s Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP 3 by burrowing down deeper than any instrument ever deployed off Earth. HP 3 's main mission is to study Martian crust properties and evolutionary history. Though this may appear to only be a science based mission, gaining a deeper understanding of Mars' crust is essential for developing any mining system that will excavate material beyond the surface.

Once placed on the Martian surface by InSight's robotic arm, HP 3 will act like a 13.8 in (35 cm) long pencil shaped impact drill and hammer its way down 16 feet (5 meters). This will be the deepest any instrument has burrowed down on any object besides Earth, with prior instruments only digging down a few inches (a few cm). Along the way, HP 3 's temperature sensor laden tether will measure the temperature conductivity of the surrounding crust material, allowing scientists to evaluate the Martian subsurface.

Every 1.5 ft (50 cm), the HP 3 probe will stop and send out a pulse of heat, allowing the temperate sensors on the tether to evaluate how conductive the surrounding material is. For example, if the material is a good conductor of heat (with a quick decay in temperature), then the material is likely metal. However, if the material is a bad conductor of heat (retaining the temperature), the the material may be glass like. It will take HP 3 approximately 40 days to reach max depth of 16 feet (5 meters).

Deeper surface features may be detected by the Seismic Experiments for Interior Structure (SEIS) due to the the seismic activity created by the active hammering of the HP 3 probe. This will greatly extend the surveying potential of InSignt, perhaps even by a few magnitude more than what HP 3 can detect on its own.

InSight's HP 3 instrument will be the best instrument used so far on Mars to learn more about Mars' underground features, and ultimately how its subsurface material can be processed for future resource utilization.