UK-funded seismometer set to aid NASA-led mission to Mars

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.

According to NASA, the InSight mission will place instruments on the Martian surface to investigate whether the core of Mars is solid or liquid like Earth’s and why Mars’s crust is not divided into tectonic plates that drift like Earth’s.

Detailed knowledge of the interior of Mars in comparison with Earth will help scientists better understand how terrestrial planets form and evolve.

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 the red planet.

The SEIS-SP will be provided by space scientists at Imperial College London and Oxford University.

Dr David Williams, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: ‘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 is proving itself 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.’

The InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) spacecraft will be a static lander that will carry four instruments.

The UK SEIS-SP is one of two seismometers that make up the SEIS instrument, the development of which is being led by French space agency CNES.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will provide an onboard geodetic instrument to determine the planet’s rotation axis and a robotic arm and two cameras used to deploy and monitor instruments on the Martian surface.

The German Aerospace Center is building a subsurface heat probe to measure the flow of heat from the interior.

All the data combined will inform researchers about the current internal state of Mars and how it has changed through time.