note: possibly helpful:

@karthikeyan's excellent answer links to The Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment on the InSight Mission to Mars (Folkner, W.M., Dehant, V., Le Maistre, S. et al. Space Sci Rev (2018) 214: 100. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11214-018-0530-5), and includes this image from there.

The antennas need to point towards Earth when InSight is near the edge of Mars' disk as seen from Earth so that the Doppler shift of the returned signal will be sensitive to small changes in Mars' rotation. The antennas are back-to-back so that the signals will be received and rebroadcast coherently both when moving towards Earth and away from Earth, corresponding to the East-pointing and West-pointing antenna, respectively.

This will need to be done over a period of at least two years in order to get a sufficient amount of data to detect the very tiny changes in Mars' rotation due to things like the polar caps evaporating and re-forming for example.

Considering all of this, I can't understand why it looks like the two horn antennas have been rotated slightly clockwise as viewed from above, slightly south of east, and north of west. Why exactly?

enter image description here

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Exact details from the paper will be as follows :"One antenna points 15.5◦ south of due east and the other point 6◦ north of due west. These angles were designed to provide good viewing geometry for RISE while also allowing low-rate telemetry from Earth to the lander throughout the mission". Still the why question remains unanswered $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 6:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There's also the 25° tilt of Mars axis that changes the pointing direction of antennas throughout the year. The opening angle of the antennas might not be as large as the required 50°. $\endgroup$
    – asdfex
    Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 14:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @uhoh I just checked the paper. There are no references to the angle numbers! $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 18:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Because of the difference in the orbital plane inclinations, Earth can appear up to about 4 degrees south or north of the Sun on Mars. But that would be a uniform offset on both sides, and changes during the year. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 23:49

1 Answer 1


The two antennas need to point at Earth during morning and evening on Mars. They are oriented in opposite directions so that one can be used in the morning and one in the evening. The science goal requires continuous contact over several years, so all the relative orientation changes of the antennas due to the movement of Mars need to be taken into account.

Mars has an axial tilt of 25°, so that the orientation of the two antennas varies by up to 50° throughout a year. In addition to that Mars' orbit is inclined by 2°. In the extreme case (Mars is far from the ecliptic and distance to Earth is minimal) this results in a change of 6° in the direction to Earth which is 3 times closer to Mars than the Sun.

Adding these up results in a needed coverage of the antennas of 62°. (Note that this does not take into account whether the extremes are actually reached during the planned duration of the mission, but is the theoretical maximum)

Both antennas have an opening angle of 50° which is less than the required 62°, not taking into account a small additional contingency for a possible misalignment of the lander. Tilting them by 15.5° and -6°, respectively, guarantees that at least one of the antennas can be used for communication once each Sol. On the other hand, precision of measurements can be increased if both antennas can be used during the same day, e.g. to cancel out effects of orbital speed. This requires the tilt to be as small as possible.

The precise tilting angles are likely given by some constraints of the vehicle construction. Unfortunately I wasn't able to find more detailed construction considerations of Insight.

  • $\begingroup$ Okay I was able to muster enough 3D-fu to briefly picture all of this at once and I'm convinced. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Mar 30, 2020 at 2:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.