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 planetâ€™s subsurface & monitor Marsâ€™ 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.
â€œWe just donâ€™t have enough time to find the leak, fix it & still make it to the launch pad in March,â€ 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)
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