NASA puts brakes on Insight Space Mission due to instrument glitch

NASA puts brakes on Insight Space Mission due to instrument glitch

NASA has announced a temporary halt for its Mars mission planned for March as the space agency team has discovered a technical glitch in the Insight spacecraft’s seismometer. The seismometer was developed by French space agency CNES. The leakage in the vacuum seal on the seismometer was discovered during a checkup and technicians at CNES have been working for months to repair the issue.

However, the leakage issue is serious and NASA has decided to put brakes on the project for the moment. In a report published by Nature magazine on December 3, doubts were raised about NASA’s Insight spacecraft’s mission to Mars.

InSight's goal is to study marsquakes and deduce the planet's interior structure — never before studied — by measuring the speed at which seismic waves travel through it. The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure is the instrument that InSight needs to accomplish that goal.

NASA earlier confirmed the leakage on December 3 and informed that for the mission to go ahead, the issue has to be resolved. Once CNES team resolves the issue, they will ship the seismometer to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

If NASA fails to launch the spacecraft by March 30, there could be further delays for months until Earth and Mars are once again in a favorable geometry.

The US$425-million spacecraft is currently at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, Colorado, where it has undergone tests to simulate the space environment. It will be shipped to Vandenberg in the coming weeks, and the seismometer instrument was earlier scheduled to be added to it in early January.

As CNES team hasn’t been able to correct the leakage issue, the Mars mission has been delayed by NASA.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University in Tempe said, “Trying to do something new, something truly exploratory is difficult. The team is also contending with bringing together people in different countries who have not previously met, to build a new instrument.”

NASA chose InSight over two other finalists in the Discovery class, a competition of planetary missions costing no more than $425 million: a boat that would have sailed on the lakes of Titan, and a probe that would have hopped repeatedly across the surface of a comet's nucleus.

ESA will launch its own Mars mission, a Trace Gas Orbiter in March 2016.