NASA’s Psyche asteroid mission ripped the head off the chopping block.
The Psyche spacecraft was supposed to launch towards its namesake, a bizarre metallic space rock in the main asteroid belt, between August and October this year. But problems with Psyche’s flight software made it impossible to hit that window, leading NASA to announce in June that it had postponed liftoff and initiated a “continue/stop” review of the mission.
As that scary term implies, the cancellation was one of the possible outcomes of the review, which was informed by a separate independent investigation commissioned by NASA and the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. du Sud, which manages the Psyché mission.
Those panels haven’t fully finished their work — the independent review team is still finalizing its report — but the verdict is in, and that’s good for Psyche: NASA will continue to develop the mission and is now aiming for an October 2023 launch.
“I am extremely proud of Team Psyche,” JPL Director Laurie Leshin said in a statement Friday. (opens in a new tab) (October 28). “During this review, they demonstrated significant progress already made towards the future launch date. I am confident in the plan moving forward and excited about the unique and important science that this mission will return.”
Related: The greatest asteroid missions of all time!
Psyche will still launch atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as previously planned. But the one-year delay will have consequences for the mission.
For example, a liftoff in 2022 would have delivered Psyche to its asteroid target in early 2026. But a launch in 2023 requires a different trajectory, pushing the arrival back to August 2029, NASA officials said.
And NASA’s Janus smallsat mission, which is designed to study two separate binary asteroid systems, can no longer travel through space with Psyche, as it would have done on a 2022 launch.” NASA continues to evaluate options” for Janus, officials wrote in Friday’s statement.
(Another vehicle, NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications, will likely fly with Psyche in 2023; it’s integrated with the asteroid probe.)
The delay could also have budgetary implications. The mission has a total life cycle cost (including launch) of $985 million, of which $717 million had been spent by the end of June (opens in a new tab). A tightening of the belt might be needed to stretch the dollars over the additional years necessitated by the new plan.
Planetary scientists around the world are no doubt raising a glass to Friday’s news, as it means they will continue to observe one of the most intriguing objects in the solar system up close.
Psyche is a 140-mile-wide (225-kilometer) asteroid that appears to be made mostly of iron and nickel, a composition similar to Earth’s core. Many researchers therefore believe that it could be the exposed core of an ancient protoplanet, whose rock layers have been torn away by powerful impacts over eons.
“I appreciate the hard work of the independent review board and the JPL-led team for the success of the mission,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. the same statement.
“Lessons learned from Psyche will be implemented across our mission portfolio,” he added. “I am excited about the scientific insights Psyche will provide in her lifetime and her promise to contribute to our understanding of our own planet’s core.”
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) and on Facebook (opens in a new tab).
#NASA #wont #cancel #mission #asteroid #Psyche #aims #October #launch