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Mars 2020 mission launch date has been pushed back again

NASA has announced another delay to the launch of its Mars-bound Perseverance rover. In a message posted on the rover’s own Twitter account on Tuesday, June 30, the space agency said that due to processing delays in uniting the rover with the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, the first launch effort at Cape Canaveral in Florida would now take place no earlier than July 30.

NASA elaborated in a message on its website, saying that a liquid oxygen sensor line showed unexpected data during a rehearsal for the launch, and so additional time is needed for the team to investigate the issue. During such a rehearsal, the rocket is loaded with propellants while on the launchpad. The team then performs a countdown to confirm that the rocket’s systems are all working properly.

NASA added that it had managed to extend the end of the launch window from August 11 to August 15, and was looking into the possibility of extending it further to enable it to better handle any further delays.

This is the third delay to the much-anticipated Mars 2020 mission in the last three weeks.

The first shifted the launch date from July 17 to July 20 as additional time was needed to carry out repairs on some ground system equipment. Then, last week, a contamination concern prompted the team to push the launch date to July 22.

The ambitious mission will see Perseverance exploring the red planet for signs of ancient life. The six-wheel vehicle, which has been put through its paces ahead of launch, will also collect rock and soil samples that could be brought to Earth for scientific examination.

Joining Perseverance will be the Mars helicopter — called Ingenuity — which is set to become the first-ever aircraft to fly on another planet. Camera-equipped Ingenuity will help NASA look for potentially useful research sites on the Martian surface, and also gather data for mapping routes for future Mars rovers.

Assuming NASA can launch the mission during its targeted window, Perseverance and Ingenuity will reach Mars sometime in February 2021.

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Trevor Mogg
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