NASA reschedules launch of troubled Mars InSight mission to 2018

In a statement, NASA announced the InSight mission will be launched on May 5, 2018 with the landing on the Red Planet expected on November 26, 2018. InSight’s task is to study the deep interior of Mars to enable scientists to understand how rocky planets formed and evolved.

“Our robotic scientific explorers such as InSight are paving the way toward an ambitious journey to send humans to the Red Planet,” said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate based in Washington.

“It’s gratifying that we are moving forward with this important mission to help us better understand the origins of Mars and all the rocky planets, including Earth.”

InSight’s launch was supposed to be in March this year but NASA suspended the preparations in December due to a vacuum leak in the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), a seismometer provided by France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES). The decision was also made as attempts to repair the instrument have failed.

“Learning about the interior structure of Mars has been a high priority objective for planetary scientists since the Viking era,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

“We push the boundaries of space technology with our missions to enable science, but space exploration is unforgiving, and the bottom line is that we’re not ready to launch in the 2016 window. A decision on a path forward will be made in the coming months, but one thing is clear: NASA remains fully committed to the scientific discovery and exploration of Mars.”

The three main sensors of the SEIS instrument, which will measure even the smallest ground movements, must have a perfect vacuum seal in order to endure the severe conditions of the Martian environment.

Earlier this year, a leak that prevented the seismometer from retaining vacuum conditions was repaired. But the instrument again failed to hold a vacuum during testing in an extreme cold temperature. NASA then decided that there was insufficient time to resolve another leak, saying thorough testing is required.

The mission “replan” will involve NASA’s Pasadena, California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is responsible for the creation of the SEIS instrument’s evacuated container as well as the electrical feedthroughs that earlier failed.

France’s CNES will work on developing the key sensors for SEIS and the integration of the sensors into the container. The French space agency will also be behind the instrument’s final integration onto the spacecraft while the German Aerospace Center (DLR) will be responsible for the InSight’s Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3).

NASA’s budget for InSight was $675 million but the SEIS instrument redesign and the project’s two-year delay have added another cost of $153.8 million. The additional cost, however, will not delay or cancel the current missions.

The American space agency is also preparing for the final design and construction of a new rover in its drive to determine whether life on Mars existed.

NASA said the Mars 2020, which will look for evidence of past life on the Red Planet, has undergone “an extensive review process.” The six-wheeled robot’s launch will be in the summer of 2020 and its arrival on Mars is expected in February 2021.

from Department of Space Exploration