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NASA is moving perilously close to the end of the Mars launch window

Published Jul 2nd, 2020 11:26PM EDT
perseverance delay
Image: Thomas Lammeyer/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

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  • Following two earlier delays that pushed the launch of NASA’s new Mars rover Perseverance back by several days, the launch has been delayed yet again.
  • The new launch date will be no earlier than July 30th, NASA now says.
  • The launch window for a mission to Mars closes on August 15th.

Despite a global health crisis and many other hurdles standing between NASA and the launch of the Mars 2020 mission, the space agency has remained confident that it won’t be forced to push the start of the mission back to 2022. Everything seemed to be in order, that is until about a month ago when delays to the launch pushed it back by a couple days, and then another few days.

Now, NASA is announcing the third delay to the launch, pushing it all the way back to July 30th at the earliest. The space agency issued a brief statement blaming this delay on issues with the launch vehicle and says it’s possible the launch could be pushed back even further.

The two previous delays were blamed on ground equipment issues and had nothing to do with the spacecraft or its payload, the Perseverance Mars rover, and the Mars helicopter. This one is a bit different, as NASA explains:

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. 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. Flight analysis teams have expanded the mission launch opportunities to August 15 and are examining if the launch period may be extended further into August.

It was just a few weeks ago that NASA laid out its worst-case scenario for the Mars 2020 mission. The space agency said that the hard cut-off date for the mission, which was believed to be very early in August, was a bit more flexible, and could potentially be extended all the way to August 15th.

At the time, that extended launch window didn’t seem like it would be needed, as things had been shaping up nicely with only a couple of small bumps in the road. Now, however, it’s looking increasingly likely that NASA may need every inch of that launch window in order to avoid delaying the rover’s launch by years.

Due to the nature of planetary orbits, the opportunity to send a mission from Earth to Mars only comes around every couple of years or so, and if NASA misses its extended deadline, the space agency would be forced to wait until at least early 2022 to try again. Obviously, NASA doesn’t want to see that happen, and it’s doing everything it can to avoid it.

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