NASA announced in a memo that the long-awaited launch date for the Perseverance Rover, which will blast off atop United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, has slipped to no earlier than July 30. The launch window has been extended from August 10 to August 15.
“A liquid oxygen sensor line presented off-nominal data during the Wet Dress Rehearsal, and additional time is needed for the team to inspect and evaluate,” the memo read. ULA’s president and CEO, Tony Bruno, confirmed via Twitter Wednesday that it was a faulty sensor that had caused the delay.
Yes. Misbehaving sensor. We have retrieved it, found the cause, and are repairing it now.
— Tory Bruno (@torybruno) July 1, 2020
This is the third delay for the rover, which will scour the red planet for signs of life. The launch date was initially set for July 17, and then was pushed back to July 20 due to a malfunctioning crane on the launchpad. A contamination issue sparked another delay, pushing the launch back to July 22.
Now, NASA is desperately hoping to avoid the same fate that befell the European Space Agency’s Mars rover, Rosalind Franklin. Thanks in part to the spread of the novel coronavirus, ESA’s rover will now lift off in the summer of 2022.
The journey to Mars is a tricky one. The orbital paths of Earth and Mars align just once every 26 months, so it’s imperative that Perseverance launch within its window to avoid a costly two-year delay.
Once Perseverance does reach Mars, the rover will scope out the surface for evidence of life. It will drill into the planet’s surface and collect and deposit samples for a future rover to retrieve and send back to Earth. Ol’ Percy is also carrying a number of critical experiments, including a rotorcraft which will, if all goes according to plan, fly through the Martian skies.