Tag Archives: InSight

NASA sets InSight’s new launch date to Mars

NASA has now set 2018 as the new launch date for its Mars InSight mission.

The mission was originally supposed to launch in 2016, but missed that launch window when significant problems cropped up during construction of the spacecraft’s French-built prime instrument. NASA has now taken much of the responsibility for building that instrument away from the French and given it to JPL.

The SEIS instrument — designed to measure ground movements as small as half the radius of a hydrogen atom — requires a perfect vacuum seal around its three main sensors in order to withstand harsh conditions on the Red Planet. Under what’s known as the mission “replan,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will be responsible for redesigning, developing and qualifying the instrument’s evacuated container and the electrical feedthroughs that failed previously. France’s space agency, the Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), will focus on developing and delivering the key sensors for SEIS, integration of the sensors into the container, and the final integration of the instrument onto the spacecraft.

The cost for the changes and reschedule is estimated to be more than $150 million, adding to the budget strain in NASA’s science programs already caused by the overruns from the James Webb Space Telescope.

The cost of delaying the Mars InSight mission two years

NASA now estimates that it will cost about $150 million to delay the troubled InSight Mars lander two years until 2018 in order to fix the spacecraft’s primary instrument.

The extra money has to come out of the planetary program, which suggests that NASA will be forced to only fund one new planetary mission this year rather than the hoped-for two.

NASA reschedules rather than cancels InSight

Forced to delay its launch because its primary instrument, built by the French, would not be ready for its 2016 launch, NASA has decided to go on with the InSight Mars mission, rescheduling it for a May 2018 launch, rather than cancelling it outright.

The seismometer, built by the French space agency CNES, will be repaired in time to make the 2018 launch window, said Jim Green, the head of NASA’s planetary sciences division in Washington DC. “That’s terrific news,” he told a planetary sciences advisory panel on 9 March. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will assume responsibility for building a new vacuum enclosure for the seismometer.

The last sentence above suggests that NASA has decided to take certain responsibilities from the French to make sure they get done right. It also means that the cost will be born by the NASA’s planetary program, cutting into other possible future missions.

InSight Mars mission suspended

Because of a serious technical problem with its prime instrument, NASA has decided that its InSight Mars lander will not make its March 2016 launch window and has suspended the mission.

NASA said the decision to delay follows unsuccessful attempts to repair a leak affecting the device, which requires a vacuum seal around its three main sensors to withstand the harsh conditions of the Martian environment. A leak discovered earlier this year, that prevented it from retaining vacuum conditions, was successfully repaired, and the mission team “was hopeful the most recent fix also would be successful.”

However, the instrument once again failed to hold a vacuum during testing on Monday in extreme cold temperature.

It is even possible that the mission will be cancelled entirely because of the problem.

French Mars’ instrument repair looks good

The head of France’s space agency announced today that repairs to their instrument for NASA’s InSight Mars lander will be completed in time to ship the instrument to the U.S. in time for the scheduled March launch.

Briefing reporters here at the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Jean-Yves Le Gall said the leak, which compromised the required high-precision vacuum chamber carrying InSight sensors, was caused by a defective weld that is applied to close off the tank.

The leak’s cause has been identified and a new weld performed, Le Gall said. Tests to confirm the new weld’s integrity are underway and, assuming no problems, will be completed in time to ship the instrument to the United States in the first week of January. It will then be integrated into the InSight lander in preparation for the March launch.

NASA Mars lander might miss 2016 launch window.

A leaking French instrument planned for NASA’s next Martian lander, InSight, might force the spacecraft to miss its launch window next March.

The instrument is still in France. If they can’t get the problem solved they can’t install it on the spacecraft. With a launch window only four months away time is running out.

NASA to launch first interplanetary cubesats

The competition heats up: When it launches its next Mars mission, a stationary lander, NASA will piggyback two cubesats, designed to fly past Mars and relay communications during the landing.

As I’ve noted earlier, standardized small cubesats are the future of unmanned satellite operations. Expect them to increasingly replace all types of larger satellites. And because they are small and cheap (both to make and launch), expect them to lead to a burst of new capitalistic activity in space.

Update: In related news, a small private company has delivered to NASA the first thrusters designed for cubesats. Up until now, cubesats have not been maneuverable. These thrusters will change that.

NASA picks landing site for next Mars lander

NASA scientists have chosen a specific region of Mars, Elysium Planitia, to land its next Mars science probe.

The landing-site selection process evaluated four candidate locations selected in 2014. The quartet is within the flat-lying “Elysium Planitia,” less than five degrees north of the equator, and all four appear safe for InSight’s landing. The single site will continue to be analyzed in coming months for final selection later this year. If unexpected problems with this site are found, one of the others would be imaged and could be selected. The favored site is centered at about four degrees north latitude and 136 degrees east longitude.

InSight launches next year.

NASA has announced its next planetary mission, a lander to Mars that will drill down thirty feet into the planet’s surface

NASA has announced its next planetary mission, a lander to Mars that will drill down thirty feet into the planet’s surface.

Though exciting in its own right, this mission is far less ambitious than the two missions which competed against it, a boat that would have floated on the lakes of Titan and a probe that would have bounced repeatedly off the surface of a comet. I suspect the reason this mission was chosen is the tight budgets at NASA, combined with Curiosity’s success which makes it politically advantageous to approve another Mars mission. As the NASA press release emphasized,
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