EDIT: That's all the time we have for today. Thank you for all the great questions!

Hi Reddit! We are part of Lockheed Martin’s InSight Spacecraft Operations Team! InSight is a Mars Lander that will be touching down on the red planet on Nov. 26, 2018. As we approach InSight’s landing, we thought this would be a great opportunity to answer questions about InSight’s design, engineering, launch and landing, and our overall role with the InSight mission.

Lockheed Martin is the InSight prime contractor and is responsible for the complete spacecraft system – cruise stage, aeroshell and the lander itself. This will be the ninth aeroshell entry system Lockheed Martin has built for NASA to protect spacecraft on the dangerous journey to the Martian surface.

Answering your questions will be:

  • John Ricks, InSight Systems Design Lead
  • Sarah Brandt, InSight Power Systems
  • Nick Ryan, InSight Spacecraft Test Lab Lead
  • Randy Faelan, InSight Real-time Operations & Relay Coordination
  • Ellis Mbeh works in our Marketing Communications department and will be assisting with our responses.

Ask Us Anything!

For more information about InSight and the mission to Mars, visit these links:

Proof: https://imgur.com/a/GLp3peO

Comments: 184 • Responses: 60  • Date: 

iwannaseeyourbush21 karma

What intel will InSight be able to provide about Mars compared to Curiosity and other landers?

LockheedMartin34 karma

Sarah: InSight will be the first lander to study the interior of Mars, as opposed to the surface. We’ve been able to learn a lot about the atmosphere and surface of Mars from other orbiters and landers, but have yet to study the interior. One of our science payloads, HP3, will hammer about 15ft into the surface and study the temperature gradient, and SEIS will measure seismic activity in the interior of Mars.

Copernikepler17 karma


LockheedMartin4 karma

John: we're wrapping up our event, but here's a good site all about our instruments: https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/spacecraft/instruments/summary/

Stardust90515 karma

Could a Martian dust storm affect Insight's landing? If a storm did hit the area during landing, what would the contingency plan be?

LockheedMartin21 karma

John: InSight is designed to have a successful entry and landing even in a dust storm. We added extra thickness to our aeroshell specifically for that scenario. The big challenge with dust storms is getting power from our solar arrays once InSight is on the surface. In a "normal" storm we can hunker down in survival mode power profile and it'll be fine, but if we see a huge global storm like the one that Opportunity saw this year it will be a challenge. Thankfully, the latest Mars weather report I saw this morning shows no areas of concern. We're expecting only a mild dust haze for our landing.

DigiMagic13 karma

How detailed data will the sensors on the probe be able to provide - for example, is it going to be something like "the core is mostly made of iron", or more detailed stuff like "dig at location x,y for a huge deposit of aluminum"? Are the sensors capable of discovering subterr... submarsonian caves or lakes? Other than CPUs needing increased radiation shielding and/or tolerance, are other electronic components regular off the shelf ones or they too have some extra requirements?

LockheedMartin12 karma

John: The seismometers are VERY sensitive! The science team could give more detail, but we're all excited about what we'll learn.

All of our electronics have thermal (hot/cold) requirements that are not usually found with off the shelf components.

jaxmarie111 karma

What is the length of time InSight will be collecting data and at completion of that time what happens to the lander?

LockheedMartin16 karma

Nick: The surface operations are planned to run for one Martian year plus 40 Martian days, which is about 2 Earth years and takes us into November 2020. After that we hope we can take data as long as the lander is still operating!

b12btone9 karma

What experiment / study will Insight conduct that you are most excited to see results for and why? When do we expect to start seeing that information come back?

What's your favorite sci fi show / movie / book and does it inspire your work?

Do we anticipate Mars to be a heavily bearded place? If not, how do you adjust for this difference between the test environment and the real environment?

Taki, dusters!

LockheedMartin20 karma

Nick: I’m most excited to see the seismometer (SEIS) from CNES and NASA JPL due to all the hard work that went into it. We expect a couple of months to safely deploy instruments onto the surface of Mars, so we hope our first science return will be in February or so.

Currently, I’m all in on The Expanse! Growing up it was all Star Trek, mostly The Next Generation.

LockheedMartin17 karma

Randy: For experiments, I’m excited to see what the core of Mars looks like! It would be very InSightful to compare it against a core like Earth’s. As for when, we’ll start getting science data as soon as we finish deploying the instruments, early next year. Favorite Sci-Fi Show: Futurama. Book: Gateway. Video Game: Mass Effect (well, the trilogy as a whole). Movie: Well, for now it’s obviously The Martian! I guess I don’t have a definitive pick for movie. As for whether it inspires my work: Of course! Every day, I’m living a Sci-Fi fan’s dream. Although I suppose I’d like the technology to move forward a few decades so I could take a trip there myself right now!

LockheedMartin16 karma

Sarah: I am really excited to see the results that help us understand just how much of the Martian core is liquid. And The Ender's Game series were some of my favorite books.

LockheedMartin9 karma

John: I have a lot of favorite sci fi shows. Currently I'm digging the new "Lost in Space".
We hope to start having some good seismic science info very early in 2019!

Quagsy9 karma

Is InSight able to communicate directly with Earth?

I've heard in the past that the relaying spacecraft around Mars are soon going to be hard pressed for their time on the spacecraft themselves and on the DSN. Is there any concern on the InSight mission about the relay and its limitations?

LockheedMartin14 karma

Is InSight able to communicate directly with Earth?

I've heard in the past that the relaying spacecraft around Mars are soon going to be hard pressed for their time on the spacecraft themselves and on the DSN. Is there any concern on the InSight mission about the relay and its limitations?

Randy: InSight can indeed communicate directly with Earth, and will do so every day. But you’re right, the DSN antenna resources are getting stretched thinner and thinner with every new spacecraft we send to space, and Mars coverage specifically is coming with more and more of a premium these days. Thankfully, InSight can also communicate with all of the spacecraft in Mars orbit – in fact, it depends on them! Each day, in addition to Direct-to-Earth communication, InSight has multiple overflight passes with various Mars orbiters, which then downlink the data to Earth. The orbiters have larger transmitters and can send the data faster than InSight can, so it’s actually preferred to use them.

Gweeda9 karma

What was the hardest problem to solve and how did you find a solution?

LockheedMartin15 karma

John: One of our big challenges was how to survive night time and the seasonal dust storms. InSight is powered by solar arrays (not a nuclear power source like the more expensive rovers), so we had to make sure we provided sufficient power for the science instruments and the life-sustaining spacecraft heaters. Our flight computers are robust, but they will not survive the extremely cold Mars nights without heat. We had to make sure our solar arrays were sized correctly to gather enough power, and that our batteries were sized to store sufficient power, but without oversizing anything. If we sized either item too big it would be very hard to fit in our launch and landing mass and size allocations.

spacenerd20017 karma

Who has the better cafeteria, JPL or LM?

LockheedMartin15 karma

Sarah: I am pretty partial to JPL’s breakfast burritos. That said, I did end up marrying one of the people I ate lunch with at LM, so the LM cafeteria holds a special place in my heart. Burritos…marriage….it’s a tough call.

LockheedMartin7 karma

Nick: Well, currently, the cafeteria in our building is undergoing renovation, so we hope it can catch up because JPL has an amazing café!

LockheedMartin6 karma

Randy: As I recall the JPL cafeteria is amaaaaazing.

summerdaysandsnights1 karma

You guys have cafeterias? So cool. I am interested in knowing.

LockheedMartin2 karma

Nick: We have a couple 24/7 grab and go options on our Waterton campus too!

ckfinite6 karma

Will InSight be using any of the new EDL GNC techniques proposed for Mars 2020, like terrain-relative navigation or optimal powered descent guidance?

How do you validate software correctness? Do you use formal verification, and how do you specify correctness? How tight are the real-time requirements for the flight software?

LockheedMartin9 karma

Sarah: Our landing site, Elysium Planitia, was selected for its flatness (read: nice and boring), and therefore does not require terrain-relative navigation.

astro_nav6 karma

What role (if any) are the MarCo cubesats playing in the communication with Mars InSight, either before during or after the landing sequence?

LockheedMartin6 karma

Nick: MarCO is an awesome project at NASA JPL! They are a technology demonstration to capture InSight’s communications while going through EDL, and relay that data back to Earth. They will hopefully greatly increase the amount of data and how fast we can receive it during EDL. Check out JPL’s information here and hopefully they can drop by to talk more later https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/cubesat/missions/marco.php

Dbgb45 karma

How do you insure that anything landing on the Mars surface is free of earth born pathogens ?

LockheedMartin9 karma

Sarah: We go to great lengths during the build process to ensure earth born pathogens stay on Earth and aren’t on board with us. We integrate and do all of our testing in clean room environments. We also regularly take samples and measure the “cleanliness” to ensure we’re meeting our contamination and planetary protection requirements.

rocket_enthusiast5 karma

What engines are on the insight spacecraft?

LockheedMartin8 karma

John: InSight has 3 different types of engines. The main descent engines provide about 68lb of thrust each. It also has smaller thrusters for in-space maneuvers, and very small thrusters for reaction control.

King-Boss-Bob5 karma

How does it feel knowing that your vehicles are some of the most incredible in human history?

LockheedMartin11 karma

John: it feels pretty incredible to work on these deep space exploration vehicles and missions! I love what we do and that I get to talk about it with family, friends, and reddit!

LockheedMartin8 karma

Randy: I’d love to take some time to come up with a really elegant, poetic response to this question, but the quick and honest answer is: It feels pretty cool. 😊

LockheedMartin8 karma

Nick: It is simply amazing. I’m very proud to work on this mission!

LockheedMartin8 karma

Sarah: I feel pretty lucky that I get to come in to work and be surrounded by so many people that have worked on these incredible missions. And somehow I was lucky enough to join them!

tall_but_funny4 karma

It seems like drilling into the surface will require a lot of power - especially if you find any surprises. Is there a back-up power source (or separate source) on board?

LockheedMartin5 karma

Sarah: We have two lithium ion batteries on board for redundancy and two solar array wings to provide power. As a means to save energy, the spacecraft portion of InSight goes into “sleep” mode as much as possible. This keeps our power loads low and leaves as much power as possible for the science payloads.

rocket_enthusiast4 karma

What is the heat shield that protects the insight lander made of?

LockheedMartin4 karma

Randy: The heat shield is made up of several composite materials in a honeycomb structure.

TheSpacevangelist4 karma

Where can the public go to find detailed times for keyhole, atmospheric interface, drop legs, etc? Go InSight!

LockheedMartin4 karma

John: I'm not sure this site will answer all your questions, but there is lots of good info at https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/insight/ and here: https://mars.nasa.gov/resources/22122/insights-entry-descent-and-landing/

VeryCuriousToKnow3 karma

It appears that Lockheed Martin’s Spacecraft Operations Team is located in Denver, CO. I've just learned about this fine establishment called Casa Bonita, after recently watching a South Park episode. Does your team frequently eat there?

LockheedMartin4 karma

Sarah: I wouldn’t say we frequently eat there, but I have gone with a few of my ATLO (assembly, test, & launch operations) coworkers recently! Everyone has to experience the wonders of Casa Bonita! And when our teammates from France (SEIS engineers) and Germany (HP3 engineers) came to Denver, they made a point to check it out. I’m sure it didn’t disappoint…

LockheedMartin2 karma

Randy: You know, I've still never been there! Although I have been to the actual South Park.

tvlord3 karma

Are there any new technologies you're installing that haven't been tried on a Mars lander before?

LockheedMartin7 karma

Ellis: We have a Li-Ion Battery that has a special low-temperature electrolyte that has never been flown before. This ensure the battery can operate down to -40C (-40F).

BrazenWizard3 karma

Oh guys! I admire you hugely, What grades did you had to study to get such a wonderful job?

LockheedMartin8 karma

Sarah: I studied Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering at Ohio State and then did my Master’s in Aerospace Engineering while working at LM (using their Education Assistance program).

LockheedMartin5 karma

Randy: I have a Bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering, and a Master’s in Astronautical Engineering. The Master’s has a focus on Systems Engineering, so I’m more involved in the big-picture planning, integration, and operations, and don’t deal too much with the super technical stuff. For those degrees, Math, Physics, Engineering, and Computer Science are super helpful.

LockheedMartin4 karma

Nick: I studied Electrical Engineering in college. After I started working for LM, I took advantage of the tuition reimbursement to study Systems Engineering for my Master’s.

catherid3 karma

What advice would you give a young person who might be interested in working on the next Martian lander many years in the future?

LockheedMartin12 karma

Sarah: Great question! My biggest piece of advice for those wanting to go into this type of business is to study what interests you and will keep you excited. There are so many different types of jobs that make this type of engineering feat possible. A very common path is engineering (software, mechanical, aerospace, electrical, systems), but you don’t have to be an engineer. We need scientists, skilled technicians, planners, people focused on finance and contracts, communications, the list goes on and on. The path to get in this field will require hard work, so pick something that you are excited about that will keep you going when the going gets tough.

LockheedMartin5 karma

Randy: School smarts are a must, especially in the areas of math, physics, engineering, etc. It’s also a good idea to know who actually works on these kinds of things, and where – I didn’t know until 5 years into my career! Getting internships is helpful for your resume, and gets you a ton of personal connections that you can use in the future as well.

LockheedMartin5 karma

John: work hard in school; study math, physics, and engineering

jfentonnn3 karma

Hi! I'm in Colorado, and trying to make more Coloradans aware/interested in our aerospace industry contributions. How much of InSight was built in CO, and what will our state's role include once it's on the surface? Thanks!

LockheedMartin8 karma

John: the entire InSight spacecraft was assembled and tested here in Colorado. Of course, many of the major components were built elsewhere and delivered here for system-level integration. During surface operations there will be a substantial operations team presence here in Colorado. Once the instruments are deployed to the surface our role is smaller, but will continue for the entire mission of 2+ years (hopefully much longer!).

SpaceForceIsAGo2 karma

Ive heard that JPL has a beautiful campus. Being that Lockheed Martin is a DoD contractor is the work environment? Would you say that you have more or less than The White House?

LockheedMartin4 karma

Randy: Indeed, JPL’s campus is beautiful. Our campus here at Lockheed Martin is situated right in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, though, and it’s quite beautiful in its own right! We’ve got a mountain literally next door to our building.

catherid2 karma

If someone made a movie of the InSight mission, who would play you?

LockheedMartin7 karma

Nick: Zach Galifianakis

LockheedMartin3 karma

John: Brad Pitt of course! or maybe Daniel Craig...

LockheedMartin3 karma

Randy: I would likely have a small bit part, just a few lines speaking out over the Net while I’m sending commands. It would ideally be during a “tense” moment where the music is swelling with anxious overtones. The actor would have to convey my coolness under pressure. Perhaps Adrian Brody? 😊

On_we_clash2 karma

What are your favorite sandwiches?

LockheedMartin8 karma

Randy: I love me a classic Philly Cheesesteak, wit-wiz.

LockheedMartin7 karma

Ellis: Are PopTart and cheese sandwiches still unpopular?

LockheedMartin5 karma

Nick: I’ll have to go with a muffuletta.

LockheedMartin5 karma

Sarah: grilled cheese.

LockheedMartin2 karma

John: I really enjoy a nice roasted heterocephalus glaber on rye ;-)

rocket_enthusiast2 karma

what type of batteries does the spacecraft have?

LockheedMartin4 karma

John: the batteries our next-generation Lithium-Ion specially tailored for cold operating temperatures.

saef_myth1 karma

What's the latest space engines you have ?

LockheedMartin2 karma

John: InSight is flying three different size rocket engines from Aerojet.

King-Boss-Bob1 karma

What do you have to say to the people that think all of the space “stuff” is fake?

Edit: to clarify I don’t think it’s fake I think it’s incredible

LockheedMartin5 karma

Randy: “The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” ― Carl Sagan

The way I see it, those people are missing out on a really great period of time in human history.

PaintedGolden1 karma

How long will Insight be on Mars?

LockheedMartin2 karma

John: our primary mission is scheduled for a full Mars year (about 2 Earth years), but hope the lander will survive multiple Mars winters and provide science for several years!

tvlord1 karma

What do we hope to achieve with InSight?

LockheedMartin3 karma

Ellis: InSight is looking to understand formation and evolution of Mars and determine the level of tectonic activity on the red planet.

monadoboyX1 karma

What is the biggest technological challenge of this mission?

LockheedMartin4 karma

Randy: I’d say the hardest part of this mission is the physical act of getting it there, and specifically, landing it on the surface of Mars! Landing a spacecraft on another planet is tricky.

ryanlindbergo1 karma

How do you guys see your efforts as part of an overall plan to explore Mars/potentially laying the groundwork for sending humans there?

What kind of things do you hope this current mission will achieve?

LockheedMartin2 karma

Nick: From a general point of view, we hope our work and effort will help increase our overall knowledge and capability of reaching Mars safely. Hopefully our friends at NASA JPL can answer more for you later!

summerdaysandsnights1 karma

Are there any traditions before each landing/launch event? Team huddle?

LockheedMartin3 karma

Sarah: JPL also passes out peanuts just before landing to those on console, so there will be peanuts at both Mission Support Areas at Lockheed Martin and JPL. Ice cream is another tradition that we plan to partake in!

LockheedMartin2 karma

John: on launch day we did some pre-launch yoga to keep the team limber and reduce the stress. I expect we may do some pre-landing yoga too prior to landing in two weeks.

99Richards990 karma

Thanks for doing this! Could you give us advice on seeking an internship with NASA?

LockheedMartin3 karma

Ellis: Apply now! NASA is accepting applications for 2019. https://intern.nasa.gov/

WilliamSkelton0 karma

What innovations did you make while working on the spacecraft and what wider applications do those innovations have?

What were the toughest challenges to overcome while working on this project?

Is there room for a stowaway? ;)

LockheedMartin6 karma

John: building one of kind computers that are qualified for space environments is always a challenge! The science teams also had a big challenge getting the seismometer to hold a hard vacuum, since even the tiniest leak would compromise the science. InSIght definitely has room for stowaways that are microscopic, so we put in a lot effort to meet the NASA planetary protection protocols. That makes sure we don’t take spores and microbes that would contaminate our search for ET life.

summerdaysandsnights0 karma

How difficult is it to work with JPL? Would you say the work load is split 50/50?

LockheedMartin3 karma

John: we love working with JPL! They do some of the most exciting NASA missions and I love being teamed with them. It's hard to say numerically exactly how the work load is split, but we each have our strengths and important contributions.

Atlast19940 karma

Hi All! Thanks for taking the time! Couple of questions pls:

1 - What elements of the mission will be available to the public? Will there be any live steaming or reporting of the findings as the mission develops?

2 - Totally get you guys are a private company as is SpaceX, but any interest or plans for collaboration?

Thanks again!

LockheedMartin5 karma

Ellis: We're actually working collaborating with SpaceX in December. They will be giving the GPS III satellite a ride into orbit! Read More about GPS III here: https://www.lockheedmartin.com/en-us/products/gps.html

Atlast19941 karma

Amazing thanks! Had a quick skim - will defo read it through!

Please do post where you guys will be leaving mission updates! Will love to follow.

LockheedMartin3 karma

Ellis: Please make sure to follow Lockheed Martin on Facebook and Twitter. We will be publishing all things regarding the landing on Nov. 26, 2018.

LockheedMartin4 karma

John - on your #1, all the InSight results will be public. I don't know the details but the science team is planning to have all data available in a relatively fast manner. The @NASAInSight twitter account is a great resource to monitor for the latest in mission developments.