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Small delay to launch of Mars rover due to ‘contamination concern’

The launch of NASA’s Perseverance rover has been pushed back by two days to July 22, due to an issue related to contamination of ground support equipment.

“NASA and United Launch Alliance are now targeting Wednesday, July 22, for launch of the Mars 2020 mission due to a processing delay encountered during encapsulation activities of the spacecraft,” NASA wrote in an update. “Additional time was needed to resolve a contamination concern in the ground support lines in NASA’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF).”

NASA and other space agencies take extreme precautions to ensure that rovers and other exploratory vehicles do not carry any potential contaminants with them from Earth which could interfere with the environments on other planets like Mars. This includes assembling the rover in a clean room and having technicians working on the project wearing “bunny suits” which prevent the rover from being contaminated with unwanted particles.

Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is being prepared for encapsulation
Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the agency’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is being prepared for encapsulation in the United Launch Alliance Atlas V payload fairing on June 18, 2020. NASA/Christian Mangano

However, there’s no need to be concerned about the condition of either the rover or the Atlas V rocket which will be used to launch it. NASA confirmed that both the rover and the rocket were in good condition and that there should be no issue with the launch going ahead during the planned window, which runs from July 22 until August 11 this year.

“The spacecraft and vehicle remain healthy,” NASA said in the statement. “The launch of the Mars 2020 mission on an Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is scheduled for 9:35 a.m. ET with a two-hour window.”

The Perseverance rover is on a mission to search for signs of ancient life in Mars’ Jezero Crater. As the rover enters its final month of preparations before the launch date, the team is performing final checks so everything is ready for the big launch day.

NASA previously announced another short delay to the launch date, from July 17 to July 20, due to the need for additional time to carry out repairs on ground support equipment.

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