Instruments for NASA Mars mission undergo testing in Germany

Researchers are currently testing a replica of the probe's SEIS instrument package, a combination of six seismometers that will be used to study geologic structures deep beneath the Martian surface at Black Forest Observatory in Schiltach, Germany.
By Brooks Hays  |  March 23, 2018 at 9:41 AM
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March 23 (UPI) -- Scientists in Germany are working hard to ensure NASA's next Mars mission, the Insight mission, gets the most accurate data possible.

Researchers are currently testing a replica of the probe's SEIS instrument package, a combination of six seismometers that will be used to study geologic structures deep beneath the Martian surface. The testing will help scientists back in the United States properly calibrate the real SEIS instrument package.

The testing is being carried out at the Joint Geoscientific Observatory, or Black Forest Observatory, BFO, in Schiltach, by a team of researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and Stuttgart University.

The combination of three short-period seismometers and three broadband seismometers allows the instrument package to target a wide range of frequencies.

"Ground movement in vertical and two horizontal directions can be measured," BFO researcher Rudolf Widmer-Schnidrig said in a news release.

The instruments were developed by engineers in France and the United States, and have previously been tested at BFO. Earlier tests focused on a pair of short-period seismometers, while a single broadband seismometer is the focus of the latest round of testing. All the tests will offer a baseline under optimal conditions against which scientists can compare the data returned by the real instrument package.

"At the BFO, we have excellent measurement conditions. Seismic noise is low. The seismometers supply data with the lowest noise worldwide," Widmer-Schnidrig said.

Scientists are testing the instruments inside measurement chambers installed in the tunnel system of a former ore mine in the Black Forest. At nearly 500 feet beneath Earth's surface, the testing chambers protect instruments from air pressure and temperature fluctuation, as well as interference from communication systems.

NASA's Insight probe is scheduled to launch in May and reach Mars in November. Once on the Red Planet, the lander will use an array of sophisticated geophysical instruments to study the interior of the Red Planet. Scientists hope the lander's observations will yield new insights into the planet's formation and geologic evolution, including details about the composition and size of Mars' core and mantle-like intermediate layers.

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