Digging deep: New Mars mission to take first look at what's going on deep inside the Red Planet

Press Release From: UK Space Agency
Posted: Tuesday, August 21, 2012

image A UK Space Agency-funded instrument, designed to investigate the interior structure and processes of Mars, has been selected to travel to the Red Planet on NASA's newly announced InSight mission.
The new mission, set to launch in 2016, will take the first look into the deep interior of Mars to investigate why, as one of our solar system's rocky planets, the Red Planet evolved so differently from Earth

The UK-funded SEIS-SP is a Seismometer that will listen for "marsquakes" and use this information to map the boundaries between the rock layers inside Earth's neighbour. This will help determine if the planet has a liquid or solid core, and provide some clues as to why its surface is not divided up into tectonic plates as on Earth. Detailed knowledge of the interior of Mars in comparison to Earth will help scientists understand better how terrestrial planets form and evolve. The SEIS-SP will be provided by space scientists at Imperial College London and the University of Oxford.

Dr David Williams, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said, "We are delighted that Dr Pike and his team will be playing a crucial role in the InSight mission. Placing the first seismometer on Mars has long been a goal of international scientists, and this is a great example of the pioneering, world-class science and technology supported by the UK Space Agency. The technical challenge is significant but the UK team are proving themselves more than equal to it. The scientific outcomes may well revolutionise our understanding of Mars - and by extension its nearest neighbour: Earth. Where previous Mars missions have scratched the surface, InSight will be digging deeper for the planet's secrets."

Dr Tom Pike, Principal Investigator for the UK seismometer and Reader in Microengineering at Imperial College London, added, "We are delighted to be playing a key part in a mission which will deliver ground-breaking science and technology; InSight will be the first mission to look at the deep interior of another planet. To fully understand how a planet has evolved, and what processes are still active today, requires knowledge of its deep structure. This in turn tells us how much the interior, surface and atmosphere of Mars have interacted over its history, with important implications for the possibility of life early in its evolution."

The InSight spacecraft will be a static lander that will carry four instruments. The UK SEIS-SP is one of three seismometers that make up the SEIS instrument. There will also be two cameras and a robotic arm; a sensor that will very accurately determine the degree to which the planet wobbles on its axis; and a probe that will be pushed into the planet's surface to reveal how the planet is cooling. All the data combined will inform researchers about the internal state of Mars today and how it has changed through the aeons.

Previous exploration of Mars has revealed that the Red Planet was much more geologically active in the past. What has not been established is when and why this activity ceased. InSight will not only help us to better understand what happened to Mars's geological activity and atmosphere but will give us an insight into whether the internal structure of Earth is a special case or a more general one.


Julia Short
Press Officer
UK Space Agency
Tel: 01793 418069
Mobile: 07770 276 721


* InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

* It will be led from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

* The design of the lander leans heavily on the successful Phoenix probe put on the Red Planet in 2008. But although the 2016 venture will look very similar, it will carry very different instrumentation.

* Insight is part of NASA's Discovery programme.

* NASA's Discovery Program gives scientists the opportunity to dig deep into their imaginations and find innovative ways to unlock the mysteries of the solar system. When it began in 1992, this program represented a breakthrough in the way NASA explores space. For the first time, scientists and engineers were called on to assemble teams and design exciting, focused planetary science investigations that would deepen the knowledge about our solar system.

UK Space Agency

The UK Space Agency is at the heart of UK efforts to explore and benefit from space. It is responsible for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme and provides a clear, single voice for UK space ambitions.

The UK Space Agency is responsible for ensuring that the UK retains and grows a strategic capability in the space-based systems, technologies, science and applications. It leads the UK's civil space programme in order to win sustainable economic growth, secure new scientific knowledge and provide benefits to all citizens.

The UK Space Agency:

Co-ordinates UK civil space activity
Encourages academic research
Supports the UK space industry
Raises the profile of UK space activities at home and abroad
Increases understanding of space science and its practical benefits
Inspires our next generation of UK scientists and engineers
Licences the launch and operation of UK spacecraft
Promotes co-operation and participation in the European Space programme

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