NASA delays the launch of Perseverance rover until at least July 30

NASA delays the launch of its Perseverance rover until at least July 30 due to problems with its launch vehicle in latest setback to Mars 2020 mission

  • NASA plans to launch for Mars no earlier than July 30 2020 from Cape Canaveral
  • The $3billion Mars rover mission started in 2012 and must launch by mid-August
  • Failing to launch will lead to a two year delay as Mars won’t be aligned with Earth 

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission has been delayed again and won’t launch until July 30 ‘at the earliest’ due to problems with the launch vehicle, according to the space agency.

This is the second time the launch has been delayed in the past week – it was originally due to set off on July 17 but this was pushed back to July 22.

NASA has to get the Mars 2020 craft into space by August 15 or it will miss the ‘launch window’ for getting to Mars and will face a costly two-year delay.

The launch window is determined by the alignment of the Earth and Mars, with lift-off scheduled to ensure the shortest possible travel time between the two planets. 

Even if it is delayed until the last minute on August 15, NASA says the spacecraft and Perseverance rover will still land on Mars on February 18, 2021 at about 20:00 GMT. 

If it does miss the deadline and can’t launch by August 15 the $3billion cost of the Mars 2020 mission will increase by at least $500 million, NASA said. 

NASAs Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will be able to study, analyse and even collect samples of rock and soil from the Red Planet to search for signs of ancient life. It also has a weather station, surface radar and panoramic camera onboard

The latest delay is the result of processing problems with the launch vehicle that will get the rover and spacecraft off the Earth and into space.

Specifically NASA said a liquid oxygen sensor line produced ‘off-nominal data’ during a practice session and the team need longer to evaluate what happened. 

‘Due to launch vehicle processing delays in preparation for spacecraft mate operations, NASA and United Launch Alliance have moved the first launch attempt of the Mars 2020 mission to no earlier than July 30,’ the agency wrote.

‘A liquid oxygen sensor line presented off-nominal data during the Wet Dress Rehearsal, and additional time is needed for the team to inspect and evaluate.’ 

The rover’s name, Perseverance, has taken on added meaning in the last few months, according to NASA officials, who say COVID-19 presented new hurdles.

The coronavirus pandemic meant NASA scientists had to work in smaller teams, with some working from home, to meet the strict launch window deadline. 

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission is expected to go ahead before August 15 despite coronavirus setbacks that could have led to a two year delay

The rover mission is scheduled to launch no earlier than July 30 from Cape Canaveral in Florida on an Atlas V rocket and will land on the Red Planet in February 2021

The previous delay was the result of a contamination issue in the ground support lines at the NASA Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility.

The original day was July 17, but due to ground system equipment problems involving a faulty crane the team pushed it to July 20 and then again to July 22.

NASA will still have two weeks of potential launch windows before Mars and Earth are no longer aligned in a way that makes the mission possible. 

The Mars 2020 team said that ‘the first launch opportunity is scheduled for no earlier than July 30, 2020’ at about 12:50 BST. 

‘The launch windows will last approximately between 30 minutes and two hours, with a unique launch opportunity every five minutes.’

There is a launch opportunity every day between July 30 and August 15  with all launches happening between 12:50 BST and 13:55 BST. 

The mission will take the Perseverance rover, along with the Ingenuity helicopter, to the Red planet to look for signs of past microscopic life and explore the geology of the Jezero Crater landing site. 

The Red Planet’s surface has been visited by eight NASA spacecraft and this one – the ninth – will be the first that involves gathering samples to bring back to Earth.  

NASA says the mission will also demonstrate key technologies to help prepare for future robotic and human exploration – possibly within a decade. 

This aluminium plate will fly to Mars on the side of the Perseverance rover – it commemorates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and pays tribute to the perseverance of healthcare workers around the world

The Mars 2020 mission has been slated to liftoff this summer ever since the agency announced the project in December 2012. 

Owing to the relative positions of Earth and Mars, launch opportunities only come up every 26 months.  

As well as the pressure to meet the relatively tight launch window, there are other significant challenges involved in preparing for a mission to Mars. 

In the case of Perseverance – the heaviest payload yet to go to the Red Planet – a major challenge was designing a new parachute for landing on Mars. 

There was also an extensive effort to hone the performance of the rover’s Sample Caching System, the most complex and the cleanest mechanism ever sent into space – with samples due to be picked up by the ESA Fetch rover in a decade. 

The plaque dedicated to healthcare workers can be seen on the side of the Perseverance rover that will be heading to Mars in July or August

NASA’s Perseverance rover will travel across Mars using an ultraviolet laser to determine what minerals and compounds are present in the soil, based on the way the light scatters

There will be to other missions to the Red Planet launching this summer – an orbiter that will monitor the weather by the UAE and a Chinese lander mission also searching for life signs

The mission – to seek signs of past microbial life on Mars and collect rock and soil samples for eventual return to Earth – is considered essential by the space agency. 

‘The mission has one launch, 314 million miles of interplanetary space and seven minutes of terror to get safely onto the surface of Mars,’ said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. 

‘When we see the landscape at Jezero Crater for the first time and we truly begin to realise the scientific bounty before us, the fun really begins.’ 

Unlike for SpaceX’s first astronaut launch late last month, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine isn’t urging the public to stay home and watch online to avoid crowds.

‘It appears they didn’t listen to us,’ Bridenstine said. ‘So we’re asking people to follow all of the necessary guidelines to keep themselves safe.’

Perseverance is one of three upcoming missions to Mars. The United Arab Emirates and China are also preparing spacecraft for launch to the red planet by mid-August.

The European Space Agency and Russian space agency Roscosmos were due to send the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover to the Red Planet this summer, but that mission was delayed due to coronavirus.

ESA officials said it wasn’t possible to complete all necessary testing and possible adaptations in time for the August launch window deadline.

It will launch towards the end of 2022 – the next time Earth and Mars are aligned. 

NASA plans to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s after first landing on the Moon

Mars has become the next giant leap for mankind’s exploration of space.

But before humans get to the red planet, astronauts will take a series of small steps by returning to the moon for a year-long mission.

Details of a the mission in lunar orbit have been unveiled as part of a timeline of events leading to missions to Mars in the 2030s.

Nasa has outlined its four stage plan (pictured) which it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars at he Humans to Mars Summit held in Washington DC yesterday. This will entail multiple missions to the moon over coming decades

In May 2017, Greg Williams, deputy associate administrator for policy and plans at Nasa, outlined the space agency’s four stage plan that it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars, as well as its expected time-frame.

Phase one and two will involve multiple trips to lunar space, to allow for construction of a habitat which will provide a staging area for the journey.

The last piece of delivered hardware would be the actual Deep Space Transport vehicle that would later be used to carry a crew to Mars. 

And a year-long simulation of life on Mars will be conducted in 2027. 

Phase three and and four will begin after 2030 and will involve sustained crew expeditions to the Martian system and surface of Mars.

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