NASA's InSight Mars Mission Gets Second Chance

NASA's InSight Mars Mission Gets Second Chance

NASA’s next mission to Mars, InSight, will get a second chance, with launch now scheduled for May 2018.   It was supposed to launch this month, but a vacuum leak in a French-provided seismic experiment forced NASA to delay the launch.  Opportunities to send spacecraft to Mars occur only once every 26 months and the agency needed to weigh the impact of any associated cost increases, so it has not been clear when or if InSight would launch.

In December, just weeks before the expected launch, NASA revealed that one of InSight’s two science instruments was not ready.  The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) is a highly sensitive seismometer package designed to detect ground movement on Mars and is contributed by the French space agency CNES. 

SEIS has three seismometers inside a sphere.  Air must be evacuated from the sphere to create a vacuum, but the sphere was leaking.  Repeated attempts in Europe to remedy the problem were unsuccessful and mission managers ran out of time as the launch date drew near.   On December 22, the decision was made to postpone the launch indefinitely.

The InSight — Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).  Under the new plan announced yesterday, JPL will take over responsibility for the sphere, while CNES will lead instrument level integration and testing.   The spacecraft itself, built by Lockheed Martin, had already been delivered to the launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base by the time the decision was made to postpone the launch.  It will be returned to Lockheed Martin’s Denver, CO facilities and placed in storage. 

With a May 5, 2018 launch, it will land on Mars on November 26, 2018.

The cost of the delay will not be announced until August after arrangements with the launch provider have been made, NASA said.   Most of NASA’s space science missions involve international
cooperation.  Each country pays its own expenses. 

InSight’s other scientific instrument, the Heat Flow and
Physical Properties Package, is provided by the German Aerospace Center
(DLR).  It is a probe that will hammer itself to a depth of 5 meters into Mars’ surface.
Artist’s concept of InSight on the surface of Mars with the seismometer package (on the left) and heat flow probe (pointing down) deployed. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.