NASA says it won’t be ready for the 2016 launch window for its Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission, but says it remains committed to the exploration of the Red Planet.
The agency blamed a leak in a section of the prime instrument in the science payload for the delay.
“Learning about the interior structure of Mars has been a high priority objective for planetary scientists since the Viking era,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
“We push the boundaries of space technology with our missions to enable science, but space exploration is unforgiving, and the bottom line is that we’re not ready to launch in the 2016 window. A decision on a path forward will be made in the coming months, but one thing is clear: NASA remains fully committed to the scientific discovery and exploration of Mars.”
The instrument involved is the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), a seismometer provided by France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES that is designed to measure ground movements as small as the diameter of an atom.
The instrument requires a vacuum seal around its three main sensors to withstand the harsh conditions of the Martian environment.
NASA officials decided there was too little time to fix the leak.
The launch window, when the two planets are in their optimum relative positions, lasts only a few weeks every 26 months. For 2016 window is from 4-30 March.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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