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Saturday, December 22, 2007

NASA Delays Mars Scout Mission to 2013

NASA says that the next mission in the Mars Scout program, originally planned for launch in 2011, is now targeted for launch in 2013. The schedule slip is because of an organizational conflict of interest that was discovered in one of the mission proposal team's Phase A Concept Study. This was the shortest delay for the mission possible because opportunities to send spacecraft to Mars occur only once every 26 months, the space agency says.

The Mars Scout Program is designed to send a series of small, low-cost missions to the Red Planet that are competitively selected. The first robotic spacecraft in this program is the Phoenix lander, which was launched Aug. 4, and is scheduled to land in the icy northern polar region of Mars on May 25, 2008.

NASA will fund current proposals to meet a new launch date in 2013. Revised proposals will be due in August 2008, and the evaluation and selection will take place in December 2008.

In November, NASA postponed the Scout mission's evaluation, selection, and announcement so the agency could resolve an organizational conflict of interest. The conflict of interest was discovered shortly after the concept study reports were received.

The extent of the conflict was severe enough that NASA determined its only recourse was to stop the evaluation and reconstitute the entire review panel that provides the technical and cost analyses for mission selections, the agency says in its announcement.

"The panel's independent expertise and evaluation are critical to maintaining a fair and competitive mission selection process," says Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at NASA headquarters in Washington. "This was a difficult decision, but necessary to preserve the integrity of the process, while ensuring we have adequate resources for the mission we ultimately select."

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