On the 5th of May at 4.05 am the NASA Martian lander InSight was successfully launched from the American Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The event took place in the presence of researchers and Members of the space agencies of the countries participating in the mission, among which France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
Aboard the lander there is “LaRRI” (Laser Retro-Reflector for InSight), an instrument designed and constructed by the INFN-Frascati research group SCF_Lab, in the framework of the INFN research activities on the Moon and Mars which are the result of a collaboration between the INFN-Frascati with the ASI-Matera.
In 2020 these institutes committed to providing to the NASA another tool, LaRA, Laser Retroreflector Array, for the NASA’s next-gen rover Mars 2020. The Italian laser microreflectors (the first and only ones on Mars until now) will provide: the accurate position of landers and rovers during their exploration; a network of Martian geodetic reference points; a test of Einstein general relativity complementary to the Moon one performed using the Apollo reflectors (observed by the ASI-Matera); a better definition of the Martian Prime Meridian (a sort of “Mars Greenwich”).
Furthermore, and over the long term, the Frascati-Matera microreflectors will be able to serve as surface repeaters for a variety of purposes: “lidar” investigations on the Martian atmosphere; diagnostic of laser communications from the Mars’ orbit (alternative to the radio ones) and support for a laser guided “landing” near the new rover Mars 2020 (for a NASA future mission devoted to the recovery of samples extracted from the Martian ground by Mars 2020). The latter will be the successor of the NASA rover Curiosity, which has been operating on the Red Planet since 2012.
Translation by Camilla Paola Maglione, Communications Office INFN-LNF