Mars Science Lab Rover Mission Delayed Two YearsS

Sad news for the Mars Science Lab (MSL) mega-rover, big sister to the little rovers who've been roaming Mars for the past few years. The robot was supposed to launch next year, and start exploring Mars with a lot more scientific equipment (including a laser) than the current rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. It would have arrived just in the nick of time, since no one is sure if Spirit and Opportunity will last another Martian winter. But now word has come down that the MSL launch won't happen until 2011.

This is terrible news, both scientifically and financially. The delay will cost about $400 thousand. Though the rover is only a few months behind schedule, the launch has to be delayed for two years due to launch trajectories. There's a limited time window for shooting a ship over to Mars, and that window will close before the rover is completed next year.

MSL, which we wrote about back in February (with a giant awesome gallery), is designed specifically to search for signs of habitability on Mars.

According to Space.com:

The particular technical issues delaying the mission are with the rover's actuators, which McCuistion describes as a combination of a motor and a gear box. The actuators control anything in the rover that moves, including the wheels and robotic arms.

"They're absolutely crucial to the success of this mission," McCuistion said. Without them "we'd basically have a metric ton of junk on the surface" of Mars, he added.

MSL Rover Delayed to 2011 [via Space.com]

Concept art of the MSL via NASA.