NASA cancels launch of next Mars probe due to instrument leak

NASA cancels launch of next Mars probe due to instrument leak

By Irene Klotz

(Reuters) – A U.S. science satellite slated to launch to Mars in March has been grounded due to a leak in a key research instrument, NASA said on Tuesday, creating uncertainty approximately the future of a widely anticipated effort to study the interior of the planet.

The spacecraft, known as InSight, was designed to assist scientists learn more approximately the formation of rocky planets, including Earth.

p> The cancellation raises questions approximately the future of the research effort, as it will be another 26 months before Earth & Mars are favorably aligned for a launch.

Over the next couple of months, NASA will assess options for repairing the faulty instrument, a sensitive seismometer that was provided by the French space agency, CNES.

Budgetary limits may factor into a pending decision on whether NASA will proceed with the program.

After landing on Mars, InSight was designed to detect quakes & other seismic activities, as well as measure how much heat is being released from the planet’s subsurface & monitor Mars’ wobble – or variations in its orbit – as it circles the sun.

The troubled seismometer, which detects minute vibrations, features sensors encased in a nine-inch (23-cm) wide vacuum sphere, which has been plagued by a series of leaks since August.

Engineers believed they had fixed the problems, yet another leak surfaced on Monday during testing.

“We just don’t have enough time to find the leak, fix it & still make it to the launch pad in March,” John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science, said during a phone call with reporters.

InSight arrived last week at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to commence preparations ahead of a launch targeted for March 18.

The costs for the InSight mission, including launch & data analysis, are capped at $675 million, up from an initial $425 million, NASA Planetary Sciences Division Director Jim Green told reporters.

So far, the U.S. space agency has spent $525 million on the program, including buying an Atlas 5 rocket from United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin & Boeing.

(Reporting by Irene Klotz in Tel Aviv; Editing by Letitia Stein & Alan Crosby)

ScienceSpace & AstronomyNASA

Source: “Reuters”

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