Launch Vehicle



    Launch Vehicle Facts

    Launch: May 5, 2018
    Launch Location: Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
    Launch Vehicle: Atlas V-401
    Height with Payload: 188 feet (57.3 meters)
    Mass: Fully fueled, with spacecraft on top, about 730,000 pounds (333,000 kilograms)

    What is a Launch Vehicle?

    A launch vehicle is what most of us think of as a "rocket." It provides the velocity needed by a spacecraft to escape Earth's gravity and set it on its course for Mars.

    The InSight mission was designed to launch at a time when Earth and Mars were in positions in their orbits that were advantageous for spacecraft traveling to and landing on Mars. This favorable position of the planets means that it took less energy to escape Earth’s orbit and enter the orbit of Mars, as compared to other times when Earth and Mars are in different positions in their orbits around the Sun. This also allowed the spacecraft to get to Mars faster than would be possible otherwise. This took about six months for InSight.

    InSight Launched on an Atlas V-401

    InSight launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California's Pacific coast aboard a two-stage Atlas V-401 launch vehicle.

    This is one of the biggest rockets available for interplanetary flight. The rocket stands 188 feet (57.3 meters) tall, or about as tall as a 19-story building. Fully stacked, with the spacecraft, the Atlas V-401 weights about 730,000 pounds (333,000 kilograms). That's about 14 big rigs, fully loaded with cargo!

    The three numbers in the 401 designation signify:

    4: a payload fairing -- or nose cone -- that is about 13 feet (4 meters) in diameter
    0: solid-rocket boosters supplementing the main booster
    1: the upper stage, which has one engine.

    An Atlas V-401 sent NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on its way to Mars on Aug. 12, 2005. An Atlas V-541 launched NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, carrying the Curiosity rover, on Nov. 26, 2011. Another Atlas V-451 launched the Perseverance rover to Mars on July 30, 2020.

    The Atlas V-401 rocket was provided by United Launch Alliance, Centennial Colorado, a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

    Major elements of the Atlas V-401 rocket used for InSight are:

    Stage 1: Atlas Rocket

    Stage 2: Centaur

    Payload Fairing