He will be in charge of “listening to beat the heart of Mars”: a mainly French seismometer, called SEIS, will ship on the American robot InSight, which will be launched on May 5 from the Vandenberg base in California.
“The idea is to open the hood” of the planet to understand “why it has stopped working,” said Philippe Lognonné, scientific leader of the SEIS instrument (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure), Thursday at the headquarters of CNES, the French space agency.
The seismometer allows to “+ see + the nucleus, the crust, the mantle”. “It must help to understand how Mars was formed and why it went extinct, why 4 billion years ago the volcanism disappeared, the rivers dried up and Mars became the hostile planet that we knows, “added this CNRS researcher from the Globe Institute of Physics in Paris.
InSight will look “if finally the fate of a life that would have appeared on Mars was already sealed in advance because of the small size of the planet, because of the lack of certain properties of the coat”, he notes.
Main instrument of the mission, SEIS was mainly built by France, with European partners (United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland). It was finally the JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), a NASA laboratory in Pasadena, which provided the hermetic sphere responsible for maintaining the vacuum around the seismometer, an extremely sensitive instrument.
Initially, it was the CNES that was to provide this sphere but a problem of tightness on this protective equipment encountered late 2015 has prevented the French space agency to be at the rendezvous for the shooting window of March 2016. The Nasa then postponed the launch to May 2018.
The probe will travel six months before arriving on Mars on November 26, 2018 for a two-year mission. Once landed on a flat spot, the US lander will deploy with an automatic arm the SEIS instrument on the Martian soil.
“The seismometer has nothing to do with what we usually do in the space, where we are in the realm of watchmaking, clocks”, said Francis Rocard, head of the exploration program of the solar system at CNES.
It is the French industrialist Sodern who developed these clocks with the Physical Institute of the globe, the Cnes “taking care of everything around,” he said.
InSight is “the first mission in the history of NASA where the main instrument is not American, but French,” said Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of CNES.
“This follows a competition of ideas that we won,” he said. “To win it was good but to deliver an instrument that works as we did, to be ready for launch, I tell you it was not easy, there will be a lot of emotion on the day of takeoff” .