NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced on Sept 4, 2013 that the possible landing sites for the next mission to the Martian surface, Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight), have been selected. All of the sites lay within a relatively flat area of Mars called Elysium Planitia near the Martian equator.
“Elysium is one of three areas on Mars that meet two basic engineering constraints for InSight. One requirement is being close enough to the equator for the lander's solar array to have adequate power at all times of the year. Also, the elevation must be low enough to have sufficient atmosphere above the site for a safe landing. The spacecraft will use the atmosphere for deceleration during descent.”
Since InSight is a seismology mission, Elysium fulfills another requirement as well.
“InSight also needs penetrable ground, so it can deploy a heat-flow probe that will hammer itself 3 yards to 5 yards into the surface to monitor heat coming from the planet's interior. This tool can penetrate through broken-up surface material or soil, but could be foiled by solid bedrock or large rocks.”
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will use its cameras to examine the finalist candidate sites so that a final one can be chosen in time for the planned March, 2016 launch. InSight will land on Mars six months later and will begin a mission to “investigate processes that formed and shaped Mars and will help scientists better understand the evolution of our inner solar system's rocky planets, including Earth.”
InSight will also have a surface seismograph and will use its radio for certain scientific measurements.