According to a recent announcement, NASA is not ready yet to send InSight probe to Mars. The initial plan was to launch the probe in March and start first operations on the Red planet half a year later.
NASA also said that the next mission to planet Mars would be postponed by at least a couple of years. The space agency explained that it needs some extra time to repair a vacuum leak detected at one of the probe’s scientific instruments, the seismometer.
If the fault is not corrected, the entire scientific mission of InSight would be compromised, mission investigators said. The new probe was specially built to measure the Red Planet’s seismic activity and keep track on the frequency of the so-called ‘Marquakes.’ Scientists said that the new data could help them better understand the planet’s core.
The announcement was made Dec. 22 by NASA’s John Grunsfeld, who noted that since deep space exploration is an ‘unforgiving’ business, the agency is not ready to stick to the initial launch plan.
Grunsfeld explained that there is simply not enough time to detect and repair the leak. The probe was slated for blastoff between Mars 4 and Mars 30 launch window. But until then, mission members would be more focused on the launch, so there wouldn’t be any time or energy left for the repair.
The fault was detected at the probe’s instrument called Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), which was offered by France’s space agency. SEIS and the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, which was provided by Germany, are InSight’s two main scientific tools.
A leak was first spotted earlier this year. In the meantime repairs were conducted, but when the seismometer was tested on Dec. 21, engineers saw that there was a second leak that hadn’t been detected.
NASA investigators said that the first leak didn’t allow the instrument to retain vacuum conditions. Hopefully, that leak was repaired. But when the tool was tested at -49 degrees F the seismometer was still unable to retain vacuum. Engineers said that the tool needs to maintain a vacuum of less than a millibar to properly operate on the Martian surface.
On Dec. 21, NASA decided t postpone the mission, which was supposed to be the U.S. space agency’s next mission to the Red Planet. The probe was designed after an older lander called Phoenix which reached the planet seven years ago.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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