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NASA delays Mars rover Perseverance again as launch deadline looms

Scrub the last three dates. NASA is now aiming for July 30 (or even later).

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Perseverance on June 18, with the fairings designed to protect it.

NASA/Christian Mangano

The Mars Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter are mostly ready to fly to Mars, but technical issues mean they'll have to wait to get off this rock. On Tuesday, NASA said the rover will launch no sooner than July 30. 

The start of the rover's journey to Mars was originally set for July 17 but has now gone through several delays. The push to July 30 is "due to launch vehicle processing delays in preparation for spacecraft mate operations," after an issue arose with a liquid oxygen sensor during a dress rehearsal for the launch, NASA said.

The space agency chalked up a previous delay to "a contamination concern in the ground support lines in NASA's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF)." The agency released a photo of the packed-up rover at PHSF, where it was getting tucked into the fairings that'll protect it during launch.

The first set of delays weren't a major concern, since the launch period extended until Aug. 11. However, the overall window is critical. If NASA isn't able to send the rover off in time, it'll have to wait till 2022 for its next chance, due to the position of Earth in relation to Mars. 

The space agency just gave itself a little more breathing room by lengthening the launch period to Aug. 15. NASA said flight analysis teams "are examining if the launch period may be extended further into August."

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Perseverance will take off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with an assist from a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. "Almost ready to go," the Perseverance rover team tweeted last week.

If all goes well, Perseverance will arrive on the red planet on Feb. 18, 2021, to seek out signs of past microbial life, drop off a helicopter and collect samples of Mars that may one day be brought back to Earth.