5 Dec 2008

NASA delays next Mars mission

2:08 pm on 5 December 2008

NASA has delayed the launch of its Mars Science Laboratory rover mission.

MSL was scheduled to fly next year, but the mission has been dogged by testing and hardware problems.

Agency officials the rover's launch would now be postponed until late 2011.

The US space agency is using innovative technologies to explore whether microbial life could ever have existed on the Red Planet.

The BBC reports the delay could add $US400 million to the price, which is likely to top $US2 billion.

The launch date was changed following an assessment by scientists and engineers of progress made in the past three months.

The window for a 2009 launch ends in late October. The relative positions of Earth and Mars are favourable for flights to the Red Planet only a few weeks every two years.

The next launch opportunity after 2009 is in 2011. The window in 2011 runs through October to December.