Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Watchdog: Mars rover launch could slip again

Technical and budget challenges threaten another costly delay to the planned launch late this year of NASA's flagship Mars rover from Cape Canaveral, the agency's internal watchdog reported today.

Several of the issues that delayed a 2009 launch of the Mars Science Laboratory -- nicknamed "Curiosity" -- still remain open, and hundreds of problem or failure reports must be resolved, according to NASA Inspector General Paul Martin.

Continued cost increases mean the project may need more funding to ensure a successful mission, Martin says.

Read the report here.

In a two-page response, Ed Weiler, head of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, agreed with the report's three recommendations and indicated management processes were in place "to achieve a timely and safe launch."

The launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is targeted for no earlier than Nov. 25 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

The mission is now projected to cost $2.5 billion, up from $1.6 billion after the two-year delay.

Launch windows to Mars are only available roughly every two years. If Curiosity misses the upcoming window between Oct. 25 and Dec. 18, a delay to 2013 would increase the mission's cost by at least another $570 million, according to the report.

IMAGE: Artist concept of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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