Wednesday, March 09, 2016

NASA Commits to Launching InSight to mars in 2018

A Mars mission that had to cancel plans to launch this month because of an instrument problem will instead fly in 2018, although the additional cost to NASA will not be known for several months.

NASA announced March 9 that the launch of the InSight Mars lander has been rescheduled for May 2018, the next available launch window. A launch then would set up a landing on Mars in November 2018.

InSight was scheduled to launch this month on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. However, in December NASA cancelled the launch after concluding that a seismometer, one of the spacecraft’s key instruments, would not be ready in time after experiencing a series of leaks in its vacuum-sealed components.

NASA has accepted a plan to redesign the faulty instrument, called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure and provided by the French space agency CNES. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory will design, build and test a new vacuum enclosure for the instrument, while CNES will be responsible for instrument level integration and testing.

The NASA announcement did not disclose the cost of the two-year delay, noting that a final value won’t be known until August, after NASA makes arrangements for the rescheduled launch with ULA. At a March 2 meeting of the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group, Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator for InSight, estimated the cost to be “on the order” of $150 million.

In an interview during the Goddard Memorial Symposium here March 9, John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science, suggested that good performance on other missions could provide financial reserves to diminish the fiscal effects of the delay. “The actual impact is probably less than half of that $140–150 million,” he said.

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