A U.S. science satellite slated to launch to Mars in March has been grounded due to a leak in a key research instrument, NASA said on Tuesday, creating uncertainty about the future of a widely anticipated effort to study the interior of the planet.
NASA managers and French designers of the instrument said Tuesday in a teleconferece they must now decide whether the leak in the vacuum-sealed connector needs to be repaired, redesigned or the mission scrapped.
“We’re close enough to launch but unfortunately we don’t have enough time to try to identify the leak, fix it and recover and still make it to the launch pad in March,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
The next opportunity to launch the InSight lander is in May 2018 since the best chances of launching missions between Earth and Mars occur for just a few weeks every 26 months.
NASA managers said it could take several months of analysis and discussion before they decide how to proceed. A redesign of the part could make the 2018 opportunity unlikely since it could take up to five years.