Lockheed Martin has initiated the assembly, test and launch operations (ATLO) phase for NASA’s InSight Mars lander spacecraft in preparation for launch in March 2016.

The new Mars lander will drill beneath the surface of the red planet which then will record the first-ever measurements of the interior of the red planet, letting scientists imbibe unprecedented details about the evolution of Mars and other terrestrial planets.

Technicians preparing NASA's InSight Mars Lander for propulsion proof and leak testing on Oct. 31, 2014.
Technicians preparing NASA’s InSight Mars Lander for propulsion proof and leak testing on Oct. 31, 2014.

The ALTO phase includes the assembly of the spacecraft followed by a series of rigorous environment testing which then will conclude with the launch. Tom Hoffman, who is an InSight Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, describes ALTO phase as the most critical stage in the program.

Technicians at Lockheed Martin will add subsystems such as avionics, power, telecomm, mechanisms, thermal systems, and guidance onto the spacecraft over the next six months. The spacecraft will also integrate various science instruments provided by the mission partners.

Apart from assembling Mars lander, the spacecraft’s protective aeroshell capsule and cruise stage (which provides communications and power during the journey to Mars) are also undergoing assembly and testing alongside. And, once the spacecraft has been fully assembled, it will ready for testing.

“The InSight mission is a mix of tried-and-true and new-and-exciting. The spacecraft has a lot of heritage from Phoenix and even back to the Viking landers, but the science has never been done before at Mars,” said Stu Spath, InSight program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “Physically, InSight looks very much like the Phoenix lander we built, but most of the electronic components are similar to what is currently flying on the MAVEN spacecraft.”

InSight mission, or “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport” is led by Bruce Banerdt of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Visual representation of NASA's InSight Mars Lander
Visual representation of NASA’s InSight Mars Lander

Lockheed Martin says InSight mission is more than a Mars mission. This NASA Discovery-class mission is a terrestrial planet explorer that will address one of the most fundamental issues of planetary and solar system science; understanding the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system (including Earth) more than four billion years ago.

Mission partners include U.S. and international co-investigators from universities, industry and government agencies. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the French space agency (CNES) are also each contributing an instrument to the two-year scientific mission.

Report says the Mars lander will be launched by a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.