NASA sets May 2018 launch for delayed Mars InSight mission

NASA is targeting a May 2018 launch for its delayed Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to study Mars, scheduled to land on the red planet on Nov. 26 2018.

The space agency is targeting a May 5 2018 InSight launch window, NASA announced Wednesday. The spacecraft had originally been scheduled to launch this month although NASA suspended launch preparations in December after a vacuum leak in Insight’s prime science instrument.

Related: Astronaut Scott Kelly says he could have spent longer in space

A probe on the InSight lander will hammer itself to a depth of about 16 feet into the surface of Mars, providing a wealth of scientific data.The information will help scientists understand how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved, according to NASA.

NASA is working with France's space agency, Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) on the InSight mission. “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, in a statement. "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.”

Related:  NASA finds mountain range the size of Alaska on Pluto

The space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., will redesign, build and conduct qualifications for the new vacuum enclosure for the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), the component that failed in December, according to NASA. CNES will handle instrument level integration and testing.

NASA said that the cost of the two-year delay is being assessed. “An estimate is expected in August, once arrangements with the launch vehicle provider have been made,” it added.

Related: ExoMars mission set to land on the red planet later this year

The cost of the two-year delay is being assessed. An estimate is expected in August, once arrangements with the launch vehicle provider have been made.

Longer-term, NASA’s goal is to send a manned mission to the red planet by 2035.

Related: Jeff Bezos company planning human test space flights by 2017

Other space agencies are also eyeing Mars. The first mission of the joint European-Russian ExoMars program, for example, will blast off for the red planet next week. The European Space Agency’s Mars Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli landing module will launch on a Russian Roscosmos Proton rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome,  Kazakhstan on March 14.

NASA is involved in the ESA’s 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, providing telecommunication radios for ESA's 2016 orbiter and a critical part of a key astrobiology instrument on ESA’s 2018 ExoMars rover.