Insight Launch Delayed

The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission, originally set to launch in March of 2016, has been delayed.  It’s not yet clear when it will launch, but it certainly won’t be on schedule for March.

This artist’s concept from August 2015 depicts NASA’s InSight Mars lander fully deployed for studying the deep interior of Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The reason for the scrub is that a major science instrument on the lander has been having issues. The French-made Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) requires a vacuum seal around three main sensors to protect them from the Martian environment.  This vacuum seal allows them to detect seismic activity on Mars, and notice any ground movements as small as the diameter of an atom.

Earlier this year, a leak in the vacuum seal was repaired, and mission engineers were hopeful that it would work fine from then on.  But during a low temperature test to simulate the conditions on Mars, the instrument again failed to maintain a vacuum, suggesting another leak was present.  Without sufficient time to repair the leak and test the instrument, NASA officials had to delay the launch.

You might think this is a bad thing, but the reality is that the extra time will help to ensure the millions of dollars that are being spent on this spacecraft will not go to waste by having an instrument fail when it reaches Mars.  The extra time will ensure the seismometer works properly and can gather good data so we can further our understanding of the red planet.


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