The German Mars drill would have to hammer five meters into the Red Planet, but it stopped at 30 centimeters. According to the DLR project manager, what makes the network fun is a precautionary measure, so as not to overload the device unnecessarily. The drill, also known as "mole", has already provided interesting data.
The "Marsmaulwurf" penetrated 30 centimeters deep into the Martian surface from the five meters provided on the first day. Along the way, his drilling head was first distracted by a stone and then met a solid but unknown obstacle and let his work rest for the time being. But fans of the cosmos can breathe a sigh of relief: the device called HP³, developed at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and authorized to fly in the NASA InSight mission, has not suffered any damage.
The mole is fine
"The mole itself is healthy," says Tilman, head of the HP3 heat flow probe at the Mars mission at the German Aerospace Center. Since February 12th, the mole was on Mars and started hammering last Thursday. Now it is necessary to determine which obstacles the HP³ heat probe is located, in order not to load it unnecessarily. Because electronics is not indestructible and every hard hit against the ground shortens the life of a piece. "The number of punches is a good thing we have to be careful about", explains the DLR project manager.
Interesting data have already been collected
The task of the mole was and is to measure the temperature differences in the Martian surface. It is only at a certain depth that the data on the nature of the upper layer of the planet can be obtained, and therefore the mole should go even further. But the useful data has already been supported according to Spohn.
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For example, from November 26, the day of the InSight landing, the infrared radiometer of the probe measured the ground temperatures of Mars and therefore "provided valuable data on the conditions of the highest millimeter of the Martian soil". Under the shadow of the "Phobos" Marsmonds, temperature changes are measured. This data can be used to determine the physical properties of the red planet's surface.
Photo: DLR German Aerospace Center
The mole had to drill five meters deep, as shown here between the InSight mother probe (on the right) and the SEIS seismograph (on the left).
Furthermore, a measurement of the thermal conductivity of the upper 30 cm is currently performed. And at the end the French also listened. The French, these are the colleagues of CNES, the French Space Agency, who are using the SEIS Seismograph to measure earthquakes and small vibrations of the Martian soil. He shakes, as the mole did when he hammered into the ground. Here too we can draw conclusions about the conditions of the Martian soil.
The sight of the DLR mole from the mother probe
It is already clear: the thin layer of dust on the Martian surface has "a low thermal inertia", is "loose" and very thermally conductive. These results can be incorporated into a model of the Martian atmosphere and, in the future, perhaps also of the Martian climate.
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Spohn's conclusion is therefore: "If we enter well, then it is wonderful, then we have our geologists, who are dealing with the construction of the upper layers of Mars. If we get stuck, it is interesting for them too".
The mole returns to Russian development
It was not so fatal, because the mole was not an expensive development. "The idea of the mole goes back to a Russian development Valeri Gromows in the 70s." This then came to the DLR through the contacts that we have in science, "notes Spohn. The innovative aspect of the mole is that the hammer is inside the probe.
Photo: DLR German Aerospace Center
The peculiarity of the mole: the mechanism of the hammer is completely in the probe
In the case of the DLR Rosetta Philae lander, the hammer was still attached to the outside of a post, severely restricting its ability to go deep. We hope that the mole's obstacle is temporary and that it can continue to reach the desired five meters.
The full interview with Tilman Spohn: