NASA’s InSight spacecraft — originally scheduled to take off for Mars earlier this year — will now be launched in the spring of 2018, the space agency said in a statement released Friday. The new launch period for the InSight (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) has been granted approval by the space agency’s Science Mission Directorate.
“Our robotic scientific explorers such as InSight are paving the way toward an ambitious journey to send humans to the Red Planet,” Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said the statement. “It's gratifying that we are moving forward with this important mission to help us better understand the origins of Mars and all the rocky planets, including Earth.”
The new launch period for the mission begins on May 5, 2018, with a Mars landing scheduled for Nov. 26, 2018.
NASA had postponed the launch of the robotic lander in December after unsuccessful attempts to repair a leak in a vacuum enclosure housing a key science instrument.
“The SEIS [Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure] instrument — designed to measure ground movements as small as half the radius of a hydrogen atom — requires a perfect vacuum seal around its three main sensors in order to withstand harsh conditions on the Red Planet,” NASA said. “Under what's known as the mission ‘replan,’ NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will be responsible for redesigning, developing and qualifying the instrument's evacuated container and the electrical feedthroughs that failed previously.”
As a result of the delay and the expenditure to be incurred on redesigning the instrument, another $153.8 million would be added to the $675 million budget for the mission.
The InSight mission aims to understand how all rocky planets in our solar system, including Earth, formed and evolved. It is part of NASA’s ambitious Mars exploration program, which aims to eventually put humans on the red planet.
“Mars retains evidence about the rocky planets' early development that has been erased on Earth by internal churning Mars lacks. Gaining information about the core, mantle and crust of Mars is a high priority for planetary science, and InSight was built to accomplish this,” Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in December.