NASA has just announced that it will postpone the launch of its March 2020 mission until July 30 at the earliest. As a reminder, the Atlas V rocket must take off before mid-August, or it will miss the conjunction of Earth with the red planet. Initially, the launch of the Atlas V rocket, above which the Perseverance rover will be styled, was to be operated on July 17. But obviously, not everything is going as planned.
In fact, in mid-June, NASA had first postponed this launch to July 20, citing an equipment problem involving a defective crane. A second launch delay to July 22 was then released by the agency on June 25. In question this time: a “contamination of the ground support lines” occurred while the engineers were working to encapsulate the rover in the nose of the rocket.
Delays in launching are obviously not uncommon. Besides, the mission leaders still looked calm. And for good reason, the window authorizing flights to Mars should normally remain open until August 11, with the possibility of extending, if necessary, until August 15.
In other words, as of July 22, NASA still had room. But the margin is shrinking.
Indeed, on Tuesday, the American agency again postponed the launch of its mission. This must now take place on July 30 at the earliest. NASA this time refers to a failure recorded during a “wet dress rehearsal”, operated on a few days ago. During this standard pre-launch test, an Atlas V rocket was supplied with fuel and a countdown was started, stopped just moments before ignition. As part of this dress rehearsal before the official launch, a line of liquid oxygen sensors linked to the rocket’s Centaur top stage appears to have failed.
NASA and the United Launch Alliance (which builds the rocket) give themselves a little extra time to assess and resolve the situation. A new test must therefore be scheduled. Then, it will be a question of encapsulating the rover above the first and second stages of the rocket.
Finally, once it is on its Cape Canaveral launch pad, NASA will also have to deal with Florida summer weather, which is subject to storms at this time of the year.
So, you will understand, if NASA is still confident, the situation becomes a little more tense as other grains of sand could interfere with the smooth running of the mission. As a reminder, if March 2020 misses this launch window, it will have to be delayed by 26 months.