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NASA has capped funding for a remote sensor being developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Mars Science Laboratory rover.
"We didn't stop their work, but they're vastly overpriced and we have not been able to curtail that," said Alan Stern, head of science at NASA in Washington, D.C.
NASA told the project "you have to finish with the money you have," Stern said Tuesday.
The remote-sensing laser instrument known as ChemCam is 70 percent over the original price proposed, he said.
Roger Wiens, principle investigator for ChemCam, said last week the sensor is more than 90 percent complete. A French company has delivered the laser, which has been under testing for several months, he said.
Stern said that if the project cannot finish with the money it has, it might be able to find funds elsewhere. But, he said, "I'm out of resources."
The lab was chosen in 2004 to develop the instrument to accompany the mobile laboratory, which will look for environments that can support life on the surface of Mars.
ChemCam is to be delivered to the spacecraft late next spring, Stern said. The launch is two years away, said Stern, associate administrator for NASA's science mission directorate.
"We have missions that get into trouble," he said. "This is the third time this mission has needed more money, and we could not pay all the bills."
One way to cut costs was to cap ChemCam, he said.
Most of the instruments for the Mars mission are ready and within budget, "but this one and a couple of others aren't, and we had to treat them all similarly," Stern said.