NASA Mars rover launch shifts again to end of July

Mars launch window extends to Aug. 15

In this Dec. 17, 2019 photo made available by NASA, engineers watch the first driving test for the Mars 2020 rover in a clean room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. On Thursday, March 5, 2020, NASA announced the explorer's name will be "Perseverance." (J. Krohn/NASA via AP) (J. Krohn)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA’s Mars rover team must have patience and perseverance as years of their hard work will soon pay off but they must wait a little longer as the U.S. space agency has pushed the launch date again for the robot.

United Launch Alliance was scheduled to launch the rover, named Perseverance, on an Atlas V rocket sometime in July. The last launch date was pushed to July 22 now NASA says it is targeting no earlier than July 30.

NASA officials said they experienced rocket processing delays preparing to mount the spacecraft to the rocket that will carry the rover to Mars leading to the first launch time change. Then during a wet dress rehearsal of the launch, a liquid oxygen sensor presented irregular data. NASA and ULA need additional time to inspect and evaluate, according to the space agency.

Launches to the red planet only happen during certain years and months due to the alignment of the planets. Any other time would make the journey much longer than the seven months expected.

NASA said flight analysis teams have expended this year’s Mars launch window by five additional days to August 15 and are looking into whether that could push further into August.

After launch, the Perseverance rover will land in the Mars Jezero creator in late February where it will seek signs of ancient life and collect samples to return to Earth on another mission.

The robot is bringing with it the first ever Martian helicopter, a small flight vehicle, and a whole suite of new science instruments. The helicopter is named Ingenuity and, according to NASA, it will take just that to make sure its mission is a success that includes landing and deploying the little helicopter on the red planet.

“Ingenuity is unlike any other helicopter ever built because powered controlled flight at Mars is unlike anything ever attempted,” MiMi Aung, the helicopter project manger at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said. “And then we had to figure out how to hitch a ride and safely get deployed from the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover.”

The 4-pound chopper will be attached to the rover’s belly where it will stay put for two months before it separates from the larger robot.