Carnival of Space #558

Welcome to the 558th Carnival of Space! The Carnival is a community of space science and astronomy writers and bloggers, who submit their best work each week for your benefit. We have a fantastic roundup today, so now, on to this week’s stories! First up, over at Blasting News, we learn that as the Google […]

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NASA’s InSight Lander Approved for 2018 Mars Launch

This artist's concept depicts the InSight lander on Mars after the lander's robotic arm has deployed a seismometer and a heat probe directly onto the ground. InSight is the first mission dedicated to investigating the deep interior of Mars. The findings will advance understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved. NASA approved a new launch date in May 2018.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Top NASA managers have formally approved the launch of the agency’s InSight Lander to the Red Planet in the spring of 2018 following a postponement from this spring due to the discovery of a vacuum leak in a prime science instrument supplied by France.

The missions goal is to accomplish an unprecedented study of the deep interior of the most Earth-like planet in our solar system.

NASA is now targeting a new launch window that begins May 5, 2018, for the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight). mission aimed at studying the deep interior of Mars. The Mars landing is now scheduled for Nov. 26, 2018.

InSight had originally been slated for blastoff on March 4, 2016 atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

But the finding of a vacuum leak in its prime science instrument, the French-built Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), in December 2015 forced an unavoidable two year launch postponement. Because of the immutable laws of orbital mechanics, launch opportunities to the Red Planet only occur approximately every 26 months.

InSight’s purpose is to help us understand how rocky planets – including Earth – formed and evolved. The science goal is totally unique – to “listen to the heart of Mars to find the beat of rocky planet formation.”

The revised launch date was approved by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

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

Since InSight would not have been able to carry out and fulfill its intended research objectives because of the vacuum leak in its defective SEIS seismometer instrument, NASA managers had no choice but to scrub this year’s launch. For a time its outlook for a future revival seemed potentially uncertain in light of today’s constrained budget environment.

The leak, if left uncorrected, would have rendered the flawed probe useless to carry out the unprecedented scientific research foreseen to measure the planets seismic activity and sense for “Marsquakes” to determine the nature of the Red Planet’s deep interior.

“The SEIS instrument — designed to measure ground movements as small as half the radius of a hydrogen atom — requires a perfect vacuum seal around its three main sensors in order to withstand harsh conditions on the Red Planet,” according to NASA.

The SEIS seismometer instrument was provided by the Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) – the French national space agency equivalent to NASA. SEIS is one of the two primary science instruments aboard InSight. The other instrument measuring heat flow from the Martian interior is provided by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and is named Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3). The HP3 instrument checked out perfectly.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was assigned lead responsibility for the “replanned” mission and insuring that the SEIS instrument operates properly with no leaks.

JPL is “redesigning, developing and qualifying the instrument’s evacuated container and the electrical feedthroughs that failed previously. France’s space agency, the Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), will focus on 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.”

“We’ve concluded that a replanned InSight mission for launch in 2018 is the best approach to fulfill these long-sought, high-priority science objectives,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

The cost of the two-year delay and instrument redesign amounts to $153.8 million, on top of the original budget for InSight of $675 million.

NASA says this cost will not force a delay or cancellation to any current missions. However, “there may be fewer opportunities for new missions in future years, from fiscal years 2017-2020.”

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for InSight and placed the spacecraft in storage while SEIS is fixed.

InSight is funded by NASA’s Discovery Program of low cost, focused science missions along with the science instrument funding contributions from France and Germany.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Ken Kremer

The post NASA’s InSight Lander Approved for 2018 Mars Launch appeared first on Universe Today.

Weekly Space Hangout – Mar. 11, 2016: Dr. Sarah M. Milkovich

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain) Guests: Dr. Sarah M. Milkovich, Planetary Geologist and current Science Systems Engineer at JPL working on Mars 2020 Rover. She has also worked on MRO (HiRISE), MSL, Cassini (UVIS), and Mars Phoenix Mission. Guests: Morgan Rehnberg (MorganRehnberg.com / @MorganRehnberg) Dave Dickinson (www.astroguyz.com / @astroguyz) Paul Sutter (pmsutter.com / @PaulMattSutter) Alessondra Springmann […]

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InSight Mars Lander Saved from Termination, Reset to 2018 Blastoff

Back shell of NASA's InSight spacecraft is being lowered onto the mission's lander, which is folded into its stowed configuration.  The back shell and a heat shield form the aeroshell, which will protect the lander as the spacecraft plunges into the upper atmosphere of Mars.  Launch now rescheduled to May 2018 to fix French-built seismometer.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

The Insight Mars lander has been saved from mission termination and will live to launch another day two years from now, NASA managers just announced following a thorough three month investigation into the causes of the last moment snafu involving the failure of its French-built seismometer science instrument that last December forced the agency to cancel its planned liftoff this month.

NASA is now targeting a new launch window that begins May 5, 2018, for the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission aimed at studying the deep interior of Mars.

The May 2018 launch amounts to an unavoidable 26 month launch delay from the originally planned launch on March 4, 2016. Because of the immutable laws of orbital mechanics, launch opportunities to the Red Planet only occur every 26 months.

Since InSight would not have been able to carry out and fulfill its intended research objectives because of a vacuum leak in its defective seismometer instrument, NASA managers had no choice but to scrub this year’s launch and its outlook for a future revival seemed potentially uncertain at best in today’s constrained budget environment.

“The spacecraft had been on track to launch this month until a vacuum leak in its prime science instrument prompted NASA in December to suspend preparations for launch,” said NASA officials.

The leak, if left uncorrected, would have rendered the flawed probe useless to carry out the unprecedented scientific research foreseen to measure the planets seismic activity and sense for “Marsquakes” to determine the nature of the Red Planet’s deep interior.

“The science goals of InSight are compelling, and the NASA and CNES plans to overcome the technical challenges are sound,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

“The quest to understand the interior of Mars has been a longstanding goal of planetary scientists for decades. We’re excited to be back on the path for a launch, now in 2018.”

InSight is now slated for a Mars landing on Nov. 26, 2018.

The seismometer instrument is named Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and was provided by the Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) – the French national space agency equivalent to NASA. SEIS is one of the two primary science instruments aboard InSight. The other instrument measuring heat flow from the Martian interior is provided by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and is named Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3).

“InSight project managers recently briefed officials at NASA and France’s space agency, Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), on a path forward; the proposed plan to redesign the science instrument was accepted in support of a 2018 launch,” said NASA.

JPL will assume lead responsibility for insuring that the SEIS instrument operates properly with no leak.

The cost is still be assessed but expected be tens of millions and likely over $100 million. How that will be payed for has yet to be determined.

InSight is funded by NASA’s Discovery Program of low cost, focused science missions along with the science instrument funding contributions from France and Germany.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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2016 Launch of NASA’s InSight Mars Lander Postponed Due to Instrument Vacuum Leak

Artist's concept of NASA's InSight Mars lander fully deployed for studying the deep interior of Mars. NASA has suspended the launch of the mission which had been planned for March 2016 until at least 2018 due to a vacuum leak in the seismometer instrument provided by France’s Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES).  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA managers have just made the difficult but unavoidable decision to scrub the planned March 2016 launch of the InSight lander, the agency’s next mission to Mars, by at least two years because of a vacuum leak that was just detected in the probes flawed seismometer instrument which cannot be fixed in time.

The leak, if uncorrected, would render the probes useless to carry out the unprecedented scientific research foreseen to measure the planets seismic activity and sense for “Marsquakes” to determine the nature of the Red Planets deep interior.

John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, announced the decision to suspend the InSight launch at a briefing for reporters on Tuesday, Dec. 23.

“We push the boundaries of space technology with our missions to enable science, but space exploration is unforgiving, and the bottom line is that we’re not ready to launch in the 2016 window,” said Grunsfeld.

Grunsfeld explained that there is simply insufficient time to locate and reliably repair the seismometer instrument leak in the short time span of barely over two months remaining until the opening of the Atlas rockets launch window to the Red Planet on March 4. The window only extends to March 30.

“We just haven’t had time to work through that because our focus was on getting ready to launch.”

The seismometer instrument is named Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and was provided by the Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) – the French national space agency equivalent to NASA. SEIS is one of the two primary science instruments aboard InSight. The other instrument measuring heat flow from the Martian interior is provided by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

The leak in the seismometer was initially discovered earlier this year. After several unsuccessful attempts to repair a leak in a section of instrument, engineers thought they had solved the problem until a new test was conducted on Monday, Dec. 21 and revealed another leak due to a faulty weld somewhere.

“A leak earlier this year that previously had prevented the seismometer from retaining vacuum conditions was repaired, and the mission team was hopeful the most recent fix also would be successful,” said NASA.

“However, during testing on Monday in extreme cold temperature (-49 degrees Fahrenheit/-45 degrees Celsius) the instrument again failed to hold a vacuum.”

It was at that point that NASA and CNES managers decided that the hoped for 2016 launch would have to be postponed.

“As of yesterday, we were still planning to go,” Grunsfeld elaborated during the briefing.

SEIS must hold a vacuum of least one tenth of a millibar in order for the instrument to operate satiffactorily and conduct its research into the Red Planet’s seismic actitivty.

InSight is NASA’s next mission to Mars. It is a stationary lander based on the proven design of NASA’s Phoenix lander which touched down on the Red Planet in 2008.

InSight would have joined NASA’s pair of mobile rovers on Mars, Curiosity and Opportunity, to unlock the mysteries of the Red Planet

The earliest opportunity to possibly launch Insight is now deferred to mid-2018, since launch windows to Mars only occur approximately every 26 months due to the positions of Earth and Mars in their orbits and the unavoidable physics of celestial mechanics.

However, due to the elusive nature of fixing the leak and unavoidable and unbudgeted costs to store the probe, it is not clear whether InSight will even be launched in 2018.
The decision on when and whether to launch InSight will not be conclusively decided for at least several months while NASA and CNES further investigate the nature if the leak.
“A decision on a path forward will be made in the coming months, but one thing is clear: NASA remains fully committed to the scientific discovery and exploration of Mars,” Grunsfeld noted.

SEIS is designed to “measure ground movements as small as the diameter of an atom and requires a vacuum seal around its three main sensors to withstand the harsh conditions of the Martian environment.”

The SEIS instrument measures about 9 inches wide. It was to be picked up from the lander deck and deployed to the surface using a robotic arm.

“It’s the first time ever that such a sensitive instrument has been built. We were very close to succeeding, but an anomaly has occurred, which requires further investigation. Our teams will find a solution to fix it, but it won’t be solved in time for a launch in 2016,” said Marc Pircher, Director of CNES’s Toulouse Space Centre.

“InSight’s investigation of the Red Planet’s interior is designed to increase understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight Principal Investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California.

“Mars retains evidence about the rocky planets’ early development that has been erased on Earth by internal churning Mars lacks. Gaining information about the core, mantle and crust of Mars is a high priority for planetary science, and InSight was built to accomplish this.”

Until Monday, the teams had all been confident that the SEIS leak had been repaired. Indeed the probe just arrived at the launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for blastoff atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

InSight will most likely be shipped back to prime contractor Lockheed Martin in Denver for long term storage until a final decision on the future outcome is decided.

The total budgeted cost of the mission was cost capped at $675 million and about $525 million has already been spent, said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, at the briefing.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post 2016 Launch of NASA’s InSight Mars Lander Postponed Due to Instrument Vacuum Leak appeared first on Universe Today.

Weekly Space Hangout – Oct. 23, 2015: Dr. Matthew Golombek

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain) Special Guest: Dr. Matthew Golombek, JPL Project Scientist for MER, and working on the NASA’s InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) Discovery Program mission. Guests: Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @MorganRehnberg ) Kimberly Cartier (@AstroKimCartier ) Dave Dickinson (@astroguyz / www.astroguyz.com) Nicole Gugliucci (cosmoquest.org / @noisyastronomer) Paul Sutter […]

Weekly Space Hangout – Oct. 23, 2015: Dr. Matthew Golombek

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain) Special Guest: Dr. Matthew Golombek, JPL Project Scientist for MER, and working on the NASA’s InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) Discovery Program mission. Guests: Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @MorganRehnberg ) Kimberly Cartier (@AstroKimCartier ) Dave Dickinson (@astroguyz / www.astroguyz.com) Nicole Gugliucci (cosmoquest.org / @noisyastronomer) Paul Sutter […]