Nasa has selected Lockheed Martin Space Systems to build the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) spacecraft, to support its next Discovery mission to Mars.
Led by Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) principal investigator Bruce Banerdt and managed by JPL, the mission is aimed at measuring the interior of Mars to provide a closer look into the evolution of the terrestrial planets.
The cost of the mission, excluding the launcher and associated services, is projected at $425m (in 2010 dollars).
Planned for launch in 2016, the InSight lander will arrive at the Red Planet later the same year at a location known as Elysium Planitia, which is a flat area near the planet's equator, to install a seismograph and heat flow probe into the surface.
The spacecraft will be equipped with geophysical instruments, which assist in delving deep beneath the surface of Mars, and identify fingerprints of the terrestrial planet formation processes, in addition to measuring the planet's vital signs, its pulse, temperature and reflexes.
With similar features as of the Mars Lander, earlier deployed for the Phoenix mission in 2008 to examine ground ice near the north pole of Mars, InSight will be deployed to study the formation of rocky planets of the inner solar system about four billion years ago.
Lockheed Martin has previously worked on the Lunar Prospector spacecraft, developed the aeroshell entry system for the Mars Pathfinder mission, as well as designed and built spacecraft for both Stardust missions, in addition to the current sixth Discovery mission.
The company has also developed the Genesis spacecraft, and is currently operating the two Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft orbiting the Moon.
Nasa's Discovery Program is aimed at enhancing the understanding of the solar system through the exploration of planets, their moons and small bodies, in addition to improving performance by using new technology and widening university and industry participation.
Image: Artist's rendering of the twin spacecraft comprising Nasa's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, which is being operated by Lockheed Martin. Photo courtesy of: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MIT.