NASA on Tuesday said it has suspended its next mission to Mars by at least two years due to a leak in a highly sensitive instrument key to the operation. The European Space Agency is still on track to launch its ExoMars orbiter next March, and send out an ExoMars rover in 2018.
NASA, French seismometer manufacturer Centre National d’Études Spatiales, and spacecraft contractor Lockheed Martin will now spend the next four to six weeks reviewing data and determining how to proceed.
NASA has postponed its 2016 InSight mission to Mars because it can’t fix a broken instrument.
The goal of the mission is to study the core, mantle and crust of Mars much akin to the study of Earth’s core, mantle and crust. For InSight, that window was March 4th to March 30th of 2016. That added hundreds of millions of dollars to the mission cost, boosting the total price tag to $2.5 billion.
Unlike missions to Earth orbit, which have launch windows that can recur every day, and ones to the Moon that can recur monthly, planetary missions involve a complex ballet of two bodies revolving about the Sun.
SEIS is the centerpiece of the InSight mission, which is aimed at monitoring seismic activity deep beneath the Red Planet’s surface. The spacecraft is created to help scientists learn more about the formation of rocky planets in the solar system and the interior structure of Mars.
Earlier this month, it was discovered that there was a leak in the vacuum-sealed sphere that holds three seismometers.
“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”, Nasa’s John Grunsfeld was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency. A previous leak earlier this year was repaired, but seems to have broke apart during a test on Monday involving temperatures at -49 degrees Fahrenheit.
The InSight spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, was delivered to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, on December 16.
The problem started with one of the most intriguing new instruments on InSight, the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, and the difficulty of keeping it airtight.
Marc Pircher, the director of CNES’s Toulouse Space Centre, was less enthusiastic. “We were very close to succeeding, but an anomaly has occurred, which requires further investigation”.