InSight NASA
The InSight NASA craft in a clean room undergoing testing. NASA

The next mission to Mars won’t land a rover or drop off any humans to create a colony but rather it will give researchers a better idea of what the Red Planet’s interior is like. The spacecraft that will land and stay stationary on Mars, called InSight, is currently set to launch in the five weeks following May 5, 2018, from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The mission was selected by NASA out of 28 proposals for possible missions to conduct in the solar system. The mission is important because Mars could offer information about the formation and early years of rocky planets better than Earth could. This could help researchers better understand other newer planets or even exoplanets.

The name InSight comes from the function of the craft, the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. The five-week launch window puts the craft on track to arrive at Mars the Monday after Thanksgiving later that year, according to NASA. Once there, a stationary lander will be put down near the equator of the planet where it will deploy two solar arrays for power. Then the InSight will put two instruments onto the Martian surface using its robotic arm. The instruments will then stay there taking measurements to send back to Earth.

One instrument will be a seismometer which will measure movement in the ground as small as half the diameter of a hydrogen atom, according to NASA. This piece of equipment will record waves from “marsquakes” and will help reveal information about the inside of the planet. This seismometer was supplied by the French space agency with the help of other countries.

The other instrument is a heat probe that will plunge 10 feet into the surface of the planet and measure the energy coming from the interior of the planet. This piece of equipment was supplied by the German Aerospace Center and the mechanism it will use to hammer itself into the ground was supplied by Poland.

Testing is underway for the craft and its sensors to work out any issues it may have before the launch window. A leak that was found in the metal container that maintains the vacuum conditions in the seismometer’s sensors last year that delayed the original launch window of March 2016. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, the company assembling and testing the craft and its equipment, replaced the vessel with a redesigned one that has since been tested and proven effective.

The reason for the large gap between the first planned launch and the May 2018 target is that Mars and Earth reach peak planetary geometry for launched about every 26 months or so and those windows only last a few weeks, according to NASA. If all goes according to plan between now and May the craft will be sending back data on a regular basis by 2019.