Bummer of a news item, I know, but the Mars InSight lander, set to blast off in the upcoming Mars window, has been delayed. Testing last week revealed a leak in a seismometer provided by the French space agency, CNES (le Centre national d’études spatiales). The instrument has had a somewhat checkered past already, with leaks detected as far back as August and attributed to faulty welding. Engineers had performed a fix, but apparently it was not sufficient. Engineers are exploring options, but there is nothing that would be done in time to encapsulate it for launch.
As it is, the spacecraft is in California, and ULA has already begun stacking its Atlas V rocket, but the seismometer is still at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Colorado, where it was supposed to have been integrated with the spacecraft; in an effort to save time, they shipped the rest of the lander out to California with the intention of attaching the seismometer at the last possible minute. That is no longer possible, so InSight will be going back to Colorado to be put into storage while NASA decides what to do about it. The next launch opportunity is not until 2018.
It’s a blow not just to the Mars exploration program but also in many ways an extra slap to the mission proposals that lost out to InSight. I was really excited about the Titan Mare Explorer concept, but it was shelved in favor of InSight. Perhaps it will get another go the next time around.