NASA’s Mars InSight lander is now approaching the Red Planet and will attempt to land later today. Here is a timeline of events during the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) phase if everything goes as planned (adapted from the NASA/JPL “Landing Milestones” page). All times are in Universal Time (UTC), which you can see in the title bar at the top of the Ratburger page.
- 19:40 UTC – Separation from the cruise stage that carried the mission to Mars
- 19:41 UTC – Turn to orient the spacecraft properly for atmospheric entry
- 19:47 UTC – Atmospheric entry at about 19,800 kilometres per hour, beginning the entry, descent and landing phase
- 19:49 a.m.UTC – Peak heating of the protective heat shield reaches about 1,500 °C
- 15 seconds later – Peak deceleration, with the intense heating causing possible temporary dropouts in radio signals
- 19:51 UTC – Parachute deployment
- 15 seconds later – Separation from the heat shield
- 10 seconds later – Deployment of the lander’s three legs
- 19:52 UTC- Activation of the radar that will sense the distance to the ground
- 19:53 UTC – 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 27 km/h to a constant 8 km/h) for its soft landing
- 19:54 UTC – Expected touchdown on the surface of Mars
- 20:01 UTC- “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 20:04 UTC, but possibly the next day – First image from InSight on the surface of Mars
Here is a description of the entry, descent, and landing phase.
You can watch live coverage of InSight’s arrival at Mars starting at 18:30 UTC on:
Here is the Landing Day – 1 press briefing.
Two CubeSats called MarCO-A and B are shadowing InSight’s path. They are the first CubeSats launched on an interplanetary trajectory. If successful, they will provide a real-time communications link between the lander and Earth. They are not, however, required for a successful landing. If they fail, information on the landing may be delayed until it can be relayed by another spacecraft orbiting Mars. After doing their job, the MarCO CubeSats will fly by Mars and continue to orbit the Sun for billions of years, just like Elon Musk’s roadster. Here is a video about the MarCO mission.
Here are more details about MarCO.