2016 Launch of NASA’s InSight Mars Lander Postponed Due to Instrument Vacuum Leak

Artist's concept of NASA's InSight Mars lander fully deployed for studying the deep interior of Mars. NASA has suspended the launch of the mission which had been planned for March 2016 until at least 2018 due to a vacuum leak in the seismometer instrument provided by France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES).  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA managers have just made the difficult but unavoidable decision to scrub the planned March 2016 launch of the InSight lander, the agency’s next mission to Mars, by at least two years because of a vacuum leak that was just detected in the probes flawed seismometer instrument which cannot be fixed in time.

The leak, if uncorrected, would render the probes useless to carry out the unprecedented scientific research foreseen to measure the planets seismic activity and sense for “Marsquakes” to determine the nature of the Red Planets deep interior.

John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, announced the decision to suspend the InSight launch at a briefing for reporters on Tuesday, Dec. 23.

“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,” said Grunsfeld.

Grunsfeld explained that there is simply insufficient time to locate and reliably repair the seismometer instrument leak in the short time span of barely over two months remaining until the opening of the Atlas rockets launch window to the Red Planet on March 4. The window only extends to March 30.

“We just haven’t had time to work through that because our focus was on getting ready to launch.”

The seismometer instrument is named Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and was provided by the Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) – the French national space agency equivalent to NASA. SEIS is one of the two primary science instruments aboard InSight. The other instrument measuring heat flow from the Martian interior is provided by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

The leak in the seismometer was initially discovered earlier this year. After several unsuccessful attempts —> Read More