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NASA Gives up on Fixing Mars Insight in Time for March Launch

Concept art of InSight Lander drilling beneath Mars' surface. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — NASA will hold a press call Tuesday afternoon to discuss its decision to suspend a March launch campaign for the Mars Insight lander, which was shipped to its launch site this month despite a problem with one of its instruments.

“After thorough examination, NASA managers have decided to suspend the March 2016 launch of the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission,” NASA said Tuesday morning in a notice to journalists.  “The decision follows unsuccessful attempts to repair an air leak on a key component of the mission’s science payload.”

That instrument is the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), provided by the French Space Agency (CNES). NASA confirmed Dec. 3 the instrument — which is still in France — suffered “a leak in the vacuum container carrying its main sensors.”

The leak was caused by a defective weld on the instrument’s vacuum tank, CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall told SpaceNews Dec. 8. At the time, Le Gall said CNES had performed a new weld that should have fixed the problem. Apparently, it did not.

InSight, which was built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, arrived at its launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California Dec. 17. SEIS was to follow in January and be integrated with the lander at Vandenberg.

Now that InSight has missed its launch window, it might be a while before the spacecraft can get off the ground. Favorable Earth-Mars launch windows occur only about once every two years.

NASA selected InSight as the 12th in its Discovery line of cost-capped Planetary Science missions in 2012. The lander, based heavily off the Mars Phoenix craft that touched down on the red planet in 2008, beat out a comet-hopping probe and a vessel designed to sail the hydrocarbon seas of Saturn’s moon Titan to win NASA funding.

InSight’s cost, excluding launch, was capped at $425 million. The mission was set to launch aboard an Atlas 5 in what would have been the first interplanetary launch from Vandenberg. Such missions ordinarily launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Source: Space News

NASA Gives up on Fixing Mars Insight in Time for March Launch

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