NASA Mars Mission Postponed Due To Spacecraft Leak

The space agency has said they are suspending the March 2016 launch of its InSight mission to Mars because of problems with a scientific instrument.

NASA planetary sciences division director Jim Green was quoted by Reuter, saying that the cost of the InSight mission, including launch and data analysis, has shot up from an initial $425m to $675m.

Artist's concept of the InSight lander deployed on Mars. Built by France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales, this is a seismometer that is able to detect ground movements on an atomic scale thanks to three main sensors sealed in a vacuum.

According to the U.S. space agency, a leak earlier this year that had prevented the seismometer from retaining vacuum conditions was repaired, but after the final sealing of the instrument, another leak was detected.

For InSight, the 2016 launch window existed from March 4 to March 30.

"I feel bad for our partners in France, who have worked so hard to get us to the point where we thought we'd be able to make the 2016 launch", Grunsfeld said.

Unfortunately, during testing on Monday in extremely cold temperatures of -45°C, the instrument again failed to hold a vacuum.

"Mars retains evidence about the rocky planets' early development that has been erased on Earth by internal churning Mars lacks", he explained. If not ultimately cancelled, the InSight mission would be delayed until at least 2018, which would be the next launch opportunity for any craft heading to Mars. With the suspension of the mission, the spacecraft will be returned to Lockheed's facility in Denver. Detailed knowledge of the interior of Mars in comparison to Earth will help scientists understand better how terrestrial planets form and evolve, as well better prepare for the day astronauts are sent to live on the Red Planet. It would have been the first mission to the planet since the Curiosity rover landed in 2012.

"Our teams will find a solution to fix it, but it won't be solved in time for a launch in 2016", Pircher added.

Though clearly disappointed, NASA officials said scrapping the mission won't affect any other Mars-related missions.

The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), another major instrument of InSight has been supplied by German Aerospace Center (DLR).

SEIS was built with the participation of the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), with support from the Swiss Space Office and the European Space Agency PRODEX program; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS), supported by DLR; Imperial College, supported by the United Kingdom Space Agency; and JPL.

Financial limitations might element on whether NASA may continue using the program right into a selection.

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