NASA's Psyche mission aims to explore a 140-miles-wide metal-rich asteroid called '16-Psyche.' The agency is developing a robotic spacecraft that will be launched atop SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket on a voyage towards an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. On June 24, NASA announced SpaceX will now launch the Psyche asteroid mining mission until 2023. The mission was previously scheduled to lift off in August from historic Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
However, when NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory team began testing the asteroid-mining spacecraft to ensure it worked properly earlier this year, an issue was discovered with the software’s testbed simulators. In May, NASA then opted to shift the mission’s targeted launch date from August 1st to no earlier than September 20 to work on fixing the issue. Now, the Psyche mission is delayed once again "due to the late delivery of the spacecraft’s flight software and testing equipment, NASA does not have sufficient time to complete the testing needed ahead of its remaining launch period this year, which ends on October 11. The mission team needs more time to ensure that the software will function properly in flight," said agency representatives in a press release.
The software is designed to control the Psyche spacecraft's navigation and orientation as it flies towards the asteroid. It will also enable it to direct the onboard antenna toward Earth so that the spacecraft can receive commands from NASA's Mission Control, and beam back data. The entire Psyche mission is expected to cost $985 million. NASA already invested $717 million, which includes the spacecraft manufacturing and SpaceX’s launch services, among other things.
“NASA takes the cost and schedule commitments of its projects and programs very seriously,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “We are exploring options for the mission in the context of the Discovery Program, and a decision on the path forward will be made in the coming months."
“Flying to a distant metal-rich asteroid, using Mars for a gravity assist on the way there, takes incredible precision. We must get it right. Hundreds of people have put remarkable effort into Psyche during this pandemic, and the work will continue as the complex flight software is thoroughly tested and assessed,” said JPL Director Laurie Leshin. “The decision to delay the launch wasn’t easy, but it is the right one.”
"Our amazing team has overcome almost all of the incredible challenges of building a spacecraft during COVID,” said Psyche Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University (ASU), who leads the mission. “We have conquered numerous hardware and software challenges, and we’ve been stopped in the end by this one last problem. We just need a little more time and will get this one licked too. The team is ready to move forward, and I’m so grateful for their excellence.”
Featured Image Source: SpaceX