WASHINGTON - Launch of the next Mars Scout mission will be delayed by two years to 2013 due to an undisclosed conflict of interest with one of two finalists, Doug McCuistion, NASA's Mars Exploration program director, said in a Dec. 21 teleconference with reporters.

Upon discovering the conflict, the evaluation panel was disbanded, and an entirely new panel has been formed, McCuistion said. New proposals for the next Mars Scout mission will be due in August, and the selection will occur in December 2008, he said.

These changes to the evaluation panel have pushed the next Mars Scout mission out of the planned 2011 launch window, McCuistion said. Planetary alignment between the Earth and Mars occurs every 26 months.

The "serious conflict that required resolution," was found in an evaluation proposal from one of the two Boulder, Colo.-based finalists, McCuistion said. Though he refused to disclose the details, McCuistion said the conflict, which was announced Nov. 28, was related to procurement.

NASA established the Mars Scout program to fund relatively inexpensive missions to the red planet. The first such mission, Mars Phoenix, launched Aug. 4.

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