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NASA Moves InSight Mission Launch Date to May 2018

Sep 05, 2016 05:07 AM EDT

NASA has rescheduled the launch of the InSight mission to May 2018, following an approval by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate this week.

The InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) mission was slated to launch in March of this year. However, NASA suspended launch preparations in December because of a vacuum leak in the SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure), which is the spacecraft's prime instrument.

According to NASA, the mission was capped at a cost of $675 million, which included the construction of the spacecraft, the launch and operations on Mars. The redesign of the instrument and the two-year delay had added $153.8 million to the total cost.

NASA said the launch period will begin from May 5, 2018, and a Mars landing will be scheduled for Nov. 26, 2018. The probe needs to be launched during a window, the time when the Earth and Mars are positioned in such a way that the spacecraft can easily reach the Red Planet.

"Our robotic scientific explorers such as InSight are paving the way toward an ambitious journey to send humans to the Red Planet," Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement. "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."

The InSight probe will land on the surface of the Red Planet and stay there for 687 days (one full Mars year). SEIS is one of InSight's two instruments, which will observe Mars' internal geologic activity and internal temperature.

The SEIS is designed to measure small ground movements about half the radius of a hydrogen atom. To withstand the harsh conditions on Mars, the instrument requires a perfect vacuum seal around its three main sensors.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California will be in charge of redesigning, developing and qualifying the parts of the instrument that failed. The French space agency, the Centre National d'études Spatiales (CNES)will be in charge of "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."

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