Launch of NASA’s next Mars mission delayed until at least 2018

NASA’s InSight lander is pictured inside Lockheed Martin’s satellite factory in Colorado. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Persistent problems with a seismometer instrument package will keep NASA’s InSight Mars lander from departing for the red planet during a March launch period, and officials said they will consider shelving the $675 million project if the issues prove too costly to fix.

The InSight spacecraft, a three-legged lander with instruments to study Mars’ interior structure, was supposed to launch in a 26-day window opening 4 March 2016.

Mars launch opportunities only come every 26 months, when the planets are in the right positions to make a direct journey possible.

“When you know you’re going to miss the window, it’s essentially game over, at least for this opportunity,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate.

“This is a case where the alignment of the planets matters, and in order to get from the Earth to Mars in the most efficient manner, they’re aligned about every 26 months,” Grunsfeld said 22 December. “So we’re looking at some time in the May 2018 timeframe for the next opportunity.”