NASA is borrowing parts from the Mars mission to put an earthquake detector on the Moon


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NASA’s InSight Mars mission is winding down, and although it never got the burrowing heat probe to work, InSight is still a huge hit thanks to its groundbreaking seismometer. Now the first seismometer to operate on another planet is making history again. The Seismic Experiment for Internal Structure (SEIS) spare parts will form the basis of a seismic instrument that will travel to the far side of the moon in 2025.

SEIS was designed and developed by the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) and the French space agency CNES. Work began in the 90s, and eventually the project was chosen to fly on InSight, which reached Mars in 2018. As part of the development process, engineers built a duplicate seismometer that is still on Earth. Parts of this device will be integrated into the Farside Seismic Suite (FSS) that NASA plans to deploy in Schrödinger’s crater on the far side of the Moon.

SEIS (above) featured three ultra-sensitive pendulums spaced 120 degrees apart, allowing it to detect movement in any direction as little as 10 picometers. It is smaller than the width of a single atom. This incredible precision has allowed NASA to record hundreds of Mars quakes, far more than scientists expected to detect. For the FSS, one of the backup SEIS pendulums will become the mission’s Very Broadband Seismometer (VBB), which will measure vertical ground vibrations. A second instrument known as the Short Period Seismometer (SPS) will monitor movement in other directions.

The existing SEIS hardware already matched the proposed lunar application well, according to Gabriel Pont, who manages the FSS project at CNES. “The Farside Seismic Suite seismometer will be tuned for lunar gravity. It will be placed in a protective vacuum box called a seismobox,” Pont told Ars Technica. The team expects the 40-kilogram FSS lander has similar sensitivity to SEIS on Mars, making it about 10 times better than the latest seismometers deployed on the moon during the Apollo program.

NASA awarded the contract to transport the Farside Seismic Suite to Draper Laboratory. The lander (see above) is just the vehicle to bring the FSS to the surface. The instruments will be independent of the lander with their own solar panels, communication and heaters. To save power, the FSS will not transmit data during the lunar night, but it will connect to an orbiter in direct sunlight to download data. NASA is paying Draper $73 million for the landing under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which is currently scheduled for May 2025.

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