Science & Nature

Psyche launch rescheduled for October 2023

Psyche launch rescheduled for October 2023 thumbnail

by Jeff Foust

Psyche at asteroid
Psyche is scheduled to launch in August 2022 to travel to the metallic asteroid of the same name, arriving in 2026. Credit: SSL/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

WASHINGTON — A NASA mission to an asteroid that missed its launch window this fall because of technical issues has been rescheduled for launch next October.

NASA announced Oct. 28 that Psyche, a Discovery-class mission to the metallic main belt asteroid of the same name, will launch on a Falcon Heavy during a launch window that opens Oct. 10, 2023. The spacecraft will arrive at the asteroid in August 2029.

Psyche was originally scheduled to launch in August, but was delayed first to a backup launch window in late September to early October, before NASA postponed the launch indefinitely in June after concluding that there would not be enough time to complete testing of the spacecraft’s flight software.

The specific issue was not with the software itself but a testbed, a combination of hardware and software, that simulates the spacecraft. Engineers encountered problems combining elements of the testbed from Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the mission, with components from spacecraft prime contractor Maxar.

With the launch on hold, NASA conducted a formal “continuation/termination” review to determine whether NASA should continue the mission with a new launch attempt or cancel it. Termination was not widely considered a likely outcome, but the review was required to confirm that the testing problems could be resolved.

“I’m extremely proud of the Psyche team,” Laurie Leshin, director of JPL, said in a statement. “During this review, they have demonstrated significant progress already made toward the future launch date. I am confident in the plan moving forward and excited by the unique and important science this mission will return.”

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NASA did not disclose details about the review’s assessment in the announcement, but said it will publicly release the review’s final report and NASA’s response when finalized. The agency also did not disclose the cost of the delay.

“The lessons learned from Psyche will be implemented across our entire mission portfolio,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, in the statement.

Psyche’s launch delay also affected another NASA asteroid mission, Janus, that was to waft as a rideshare on the launch if Psyche. Janus features a pair of smallsats that would waft by binary asteroids. The delay meant that the original mission of Janus, to waft by 1991 VH and 1996 FG3, was no longer possible.

NASA said that it “continues to assess options” for Janus. An optical communications technology demonstration hosted payload on Psyche, called Deep Space Optical Communications, remains installed on the spacecraft.

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