This month NASA was supposed to launch the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission. After traveling millions upon millions of miles, the spacecraft would’ve sent a lander down to the Martian surface to investigate the deep interior of the planet.
But, as with so many things in life, there was a hiccup. In December 2015, NASA announced the suspension of the 2016 launch. An extreme cold temperature test of the lander’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, which measures ground movements, resulted in a leak. The device was being tested at temperatures around -49 degrees F. Attempts to repair the leak were unsuccessful.
Hope for the mission is not lost. NASA, this past week, announced that the mission’s new launch window starts May 5, 2018, which gets the lander to the Martian surface on Nov. 26, 2018.
While the cost of the two-year delay is unknown at the moment, NASA has decided to redesign the SEIS instrument.
The “instrument’s main sensors need to operate within a vacuum chamber to provide the exquisite sensitivity needed for measuring ground movements as small as half the radius of a hydrogen atom,” according to NASA. “The rework of the seismometer’s vacuum container will result in a finished, thoroughly tested instrument in 2017 that will maintain a high degree of vacuum around the sensors through rigors of launch, landing, deployment, and a two-year prime mission on the surface of Mars.”
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will take the lead redesigning, building, and qualifying the new component. French space agency Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) will be responsible for instrument level integration and test activities.
“The shared and renewed commitment to this mission continues our collaboration to find clues in the heart of Mars about the early evolution of our solar system,” said Director Marc Pircher, of CNES’ Toulouse Space Centre, in a statement.
The international partnership that led to the InSight mission includes the lander’s Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, which was supplied by the German Aerospace Center. The package has a probe designed to penetrate the Martian’s surface up to about 16 ft.
John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, called the mission’s plan going forward strong. “The quest to understand the interior of Mars has been a longstanding goal of planetary scientists for decades,” he said in a statement. “We’re excited to be back on the path for a launch.”
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