Leak holds up NASA’s InSight launch to Mars

Image: InSight
An artist’s conception shows the InSight lander on the surface of Mars. The SEIS instrument is the light-colored dome at lower left. (Credit: NASA)

NASA says it’s putting off next year’s scheduled launch of its InSight lander mission to Mars until at least 2018, due to a persistent leak in the spacecraft’s main seismic-sensing instrument.

Mission managers had been working for months to track down a series of small leaks in the vacuum seal for the instrument, known as the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, or SEIS. The instrument was being built and tested for NASA under the direction of France’s space agency, the Centre Nationale d’Etudes Spatiales, or CNES.

Up until Monday, managers had high hopes they could fix all the leaks in time for next March’s liftoff atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But the results from a low-temperature vacuum test at a facility near Paris were so discouraging that they scratched the launch off the schedule.

“It’s a very close decision,” Marc Pircher, director of CNES’ Toulouse Space Center, told reporters during a teleconference.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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