Insight mission: NASA to discover Mars with a little bit of Italy
To discover for the first time what hides under the surface of Mars, to analyze its underground, seismic activity, and to collect important clues on the evolution of the rock planets of the Solar System is the objective of NASA’s launch of the InSight mission to the Red Planet on 5 May.
On board the mission, a little bit of Italy, which has contributed to the development of the LaRRI-Laser Retro-Reflector for InSight instrument, the laser reflector designed by the National Institute for Nuclear Physics with support by the Italian Space Agency.
The “made-in-Italy” reflectors will be located on the surface of Mars and will act as a sort of superficial “repeaters”, by providing the accurate position of landers and rovers during the exploration. Moreover, they will be used for a number of other purposes, including research on the Martian atmosphere or to guide Mars landings of future spacecrafts headed to the surface of the Red Planet.
The new LaRRI instrument is the evolution of INRRI, the laser microreflector used in the ExoMars mission and resulting from the collaboration between ASI and INFN, and it has been designed and built by the research group SCF_Lab of the INFN National Laboratory of Frascati, in collaboration with the Matera Space Centre.
“The new generation microreflectors like LaRRI – said project coordinator Simone Dell’Agnello, from INFN National Laboratory of Frascati – are installed on planet surfaces to measure their position from laser stations that are located on orbiting satellites, at some hundred kilometres of altitude”.
LaRRI will reach Mars on board the InSight mission on November 2018 and the research teams of the INFN National Laboratory of Frascati and the Matera Space Centre will provide NASA a third instrument: LaRA-Laser Retroreflector Array, for the new generation NASA rover Mars 2020.