The launch of NASA’s next Mars rover was delayed until July 22 due to a contamination problem with the ground support team, the space agency said today (June 24).
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover was slated to launch toward the Red Planet on July 20 from a platform at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. But a problem arose when engineers worked to encapsulate the rover in the nose of its Atlas V rocket, which was built by the United Launch Alliance.
“NASA and the United Launch Alliance are now targeting the launch of the Mars 2020 mission on Wednesday, July 22, due to a delay in processing found during the spacecraft’s encapsulation activities,” NASA officials said in an update. “Additional time was needed to resolve a contamination problem on the ground support lines at NASA’s Hazardous Cargo Services Facility (PHSF).”
Related: Perseverance of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover in pictures
The pollution problem marks the second delay in so many weeks for the Mars rover’s perseverance. Originally, the mission was scheduled to launch on July 17, but it slipped three days to July 20 due to a problem in the ground system equipment involving a faulty crane.
The Perseverance rover and its Atlas V rocket are in good health, according to NASA, and ULA successfully conducted a “wet-clothing test” (a test that included feeding the Atlas V rocket) on Monday (June 22). But the new delay goes into a limited window to launch the mission.
NASA has until August 11 to launch the Perseverance rover to Mars and still reach the red planet in February 2021. If NASA doesn’t open that launch window, the agency will have to wait another 26 months (until 2022), when the orbits of Mars and Earth will once again be aligned for such a mission.
On June 17, after the initial delay, NASA officials said Perseverance has plenty of time in its current launch window.
“We have many windows or clues ahead of us and we are not concerned about that,” NASA launch director Omar Báez said at a press conference. “We’ll probably run into some not-so-perfect days that could slow us down, and the team is flexible enough to handle a three-week window.”
It may even be possible to extend the Perseverance launch window until August 15, Báez added.
The Mars Rover Perseverance is expected to land inside the 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer) Jezero crater on February 18, 2021. It is designed to search for evidence of ancient life, collecting samples from Mars that will be returned to Earth in a later mission, and testing technology to produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide.
The nuclear powered robot is the successor to the Curiosity rover, which has been exploring the Gale crater on Mars since August 2012. But unlike Curiosity, Perseverance will not be alone when it lands on Mars. It carries Ingenio, the first helicopter built to fly on another planet.
The small drone aims to make three test flights in the Martian atmosphere during the Perseverance mission.
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