In December 2015, we learned the disappointing news that NASA’s InSight lander – a mission to probe the innards of Mars – had been delayed from launching in March 2016 due to a fault.
But now for some good news: NASA has given the green light for the mission to launch in May 2018, amid some concerns that the mission could be canceled following the delay. The revised timeline will see the mission launch no earlier than May 5, 2018, arriving at Mars almost seven months later on November 26.
InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport) is a stationary lander that will drill 5 meters (16 feet) beneath the surface to measure the temperature of Mars and study the subsurface region. This will increase our understanding not only of Mars, but also how other rocky planets form and evolve, too.
The mission was initially delayed when a vacuum leak was discovered in one of its instruments, the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), which will detect signals from marsquakes, meteorite impacts, and even more localized events like dust storms and landslides. The leak meant that the instrument would have been useless on Mars, giving NASA no choice but to postpone the launch.
“It's gratifying that we are moving forward with this important mission to help us better understand the origins of Mars and all the rocky planets, including Earth,” said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, in a statement.
Launches to Mars only occur in specific windows when the planets align for a shorter trip, which occurs roughly every 26 months, which is why NASA had to postpone the mission for so long. But, thankfully, this new launch date has been approved. And it might turn out to be a busy year for Mars, with SpaceX also planning a mission, although their recent rocket mishap may complicate matters.
NASA did note, though, that the InSight delay could affect other missions. The initial budget for the mission was $675 million, but this delay will add $153.8 million, which may lead to fewer opportunities for new missions up to 2020.
Nonetheless, it’s good news for increasing our understanding of Mars. With another NASA rover planned in 2020, alongside the European-built ExoMars rover, we’ll hopefully know a lot more about the Red Planet by the turn of the decade.
By Jonathan O'Callaghan