Geology and Physical Properties Investigations by the InSight Lander
Although not the prime focus of the InSight mission, the near-surface geology and physical properties investigations provide critical information for both placing the instruments (seismometer and heat flow probe with mole) on the surface and for understanding the nature of the shallow subsurface and its effect on recorded seismic waves. Two color cameras on the lander will obtain multiple stereo images of the surface and its interaction with the spacecraft. Images will be used to identify the geologic materials and features present, quantify their areal coverage, help determine the basic geologic evolution of the area, and provide ground truth for orbital remote sensing data. A radiometer will measure the hourly temperature of the surface in two spots, which will determine the thermal inertia of the surface materials present and their particle size and/or cohesion. Continuous measurements of wind speed and direction offer a unique opportunity to correlate dust devils and high winds with eolian changes imaged at the surface and to determine the threshold friction wind stress for grain motion on Mars. During the first two weeks after landing, these investigations will support the selection of instrument placement locations that are relatively smooth, flat, free of small rocks and load bearing. Soil mechanics parameters and elastic properties of near surface materials will be determined from mole penetration and thermal conductivity measurements from the surface to 3–5 m depth, the measurement of seismic waves during mole hammering, passive monitoring of seismic waves, and experiments with the arm and scoop of the lander (indentations, scraping and trenching). These investigations will determine and test the presence and mechanical properties of the expected 3–17 m thick fragmented regolith (and underlying fractured material) built up by impact and eolian processes on top of Hesperian lava flows and determine its seismic properties for the seismic investigation of Mars' interior.