Florida Today, Popular Science, Wired and dozens of other news sources reported yesterday that the Mars Science Lab (aka Curiosity) may not be ready for its launch window this fall without some additional funding, this after an initial delay that prevented it’s launch back in 2009, but why?
This isn’t a car that is being built on an assembly line. It’s a one of a kind vehicle which comes together from components and instruments coming from around the world. The 2009 delay occurred because a number of key instruments and systems were delivered late pushing up overall costs significantly. Delays are particularly costly because Earth and Mars only line up every 2 years in positions that allow us to get a spacecraft there currently. When taking the bus, you want to catch it at the stop closest to your house, not on the other side of town.
Anyone who has built a house, planned a wedding or even planned the family vacation knows that cost is very difficult to estimate, especially when there are lots of people involved with lots of dependencies. Also the longer the project, the more likely cost estimates are going to be problematic.
Those 2009 issues are taken care of now but a big stumbling block now is dealing with contamination of the on-board chemistry lab. Engineers have come up with a fix, essentially filtering out anything Earthly from the data before processing it but the concern is that this fix wont be available available available tested before the launch window closes. There are other software and other issues that need to be closed out before launch as well.
The good news is that construction of the rover is nearly complete and is still planned to be crated up (in a very clean, very safe crate) on June 22 for transfer to the Kennedy Space Center where preparations will continue. The other good news is the remaining issues are around making this vehicle
Complete report issued by NASA’s own inspector general’s office.