- Parabolic Arc
- June 2, 2023
NASA Announces Launch Delay for Psyche Asteroid Mission
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA announced Friday the Psyche asteroid mission, the agency’s first mission designed to study a metal-rich asteroid, will not make its planned 2022 launch attempt.
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 Oct. 11. The mission team needs more time to ensure that the software will function properly in flight.
NASA selected Psyche in 2017 as part of the agency’s Discovery Program, a line of low-cost, competitive missions led by a single principal investigator. The agency is forming an independent assessment team to review the path forward for the project and for the Discovery Program.
“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.”
The independent assessment team, typically made up of experts from government, academia, and industry, will review possible options for next steps, including estimated costs. Implications for the agency’s Discovery Program and planetary science portfolio also will be considered.
The spacecraft’s guidance navigation and flight software will control the orientation of the spacecraft as it flies through space and is used to point the spacecraft’s antenna toward Earth so that the spacecraft can send data and receive commands. It also provides trajectory information to the spacecraft’s solar electric propulsion system, which begins operations 70 days after launch.
As the mission team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California began testing the system, a compatibility issue was discovered with the software’s testbed simulators. In May, NASA shifted the mission’s targeted launch date from Aug. 1 to no earlier than Sept. 20 to accommodate the work needed. The issue with the testbeds has been identified and corrected; however, there is not enough time to complete a full checkout of the software for a launch this year.
“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.”
The mission’s 2022 launch period, which ran from Aug. 1 through Oct. 11, would have allowed the spacecraft to arrive at the asteroid Psyche in 2026. There are possible launch periods in both 2023 and 2024, but the relative orbital positions of Psyche and Earth mean the spacecraft would not arrive at the asteroid until 2029 and 2030, respectively. The exact dates of these potential launch periods are yet to be determined.
“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.”
Total life-cycle mission costs for Psyche, including the rocket, are $985 million. Of that, $717 million has been spent to date. The estimated costs involved to support each of the full range of available mission options are currently being calculated.
Two ride-along projects were scheduled to launch on the same SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket as Psyche, including NASA’s Janus mission to study twin binary asteroid systems, and the Deep Space Optical Communications technology demonstration to test high-data-rate laser communications that is integrated with the Psyche spacecraft. NASA is assessing options for both projects.
ASU leads the Psyche mission. JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, is responsible for the mission’s overall management; system engineering; integration and test; and mission operations. Maxar is providing the high-power solar electric propulsion spacecraft chassis. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is managing the launch.
For more on the Psyche mission, visit:
16 responses to “NASA Announces Launch Delay for Psyche Asteroid Mission”
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One wonders how a refueling would affect the arrival times without using a Mars gravity assist.
A Mars gravity assist isn’t needed with a Starship in LEO with full propellant tanks. However the Starship isn’t going to be certified to fly something like the Psyche for the next two launch windows.
I was thinking about refueling from another FH. Sooner or later refueling on orbit will be normal. Situations like this are not unique and gaining the capability earlier would be a win.
Also I wonder how much is saved in operations cost for every year saved in transit.
Yes, with launches being cheap and easy it might to time to consider two stage systems, with one FH launching the spacecraft with its propulsion system and the other FH launching a dedicated standardize propulsion system that docks with it to start it on its journey with plenty of Delta-Vee. This would allow it to arrive at its destination with plenty of fuel for its mission, plus maybe another instrument or two.
Alternatively, the spacecraft could launch on a Falcon 9 with the propulsion unit following on a FH.
AFAIK the Falcon upper stage can not transfer propellants in orbit.
Not yet. The wasted time on this and similar missions would seem to cost more than developing the capability in the long run. May not be that long a run either. How much it costs in extra mission time and gravity assist requirements would seem to go a long way towards development costs. Not to mention the ability to send far larger craft by splitting the loads.
And reducing costs by the standardization of both the Spacecraft and Propulsion units, with options for different instruments for gathering data. It would also increase the reliability as the experience curve improves the design.
Sounds like a smart delay. Gotta make sure and get it right.
How about just building four or five of these and launch one now anyway ?
Yes, just like the Surveyors and Lunar Orbiters, especially since there are many interesting asteroids to study.
It’s one of the frustrating aspects of how exploration missions have gone backwards. Hardware is cheap, R&D is expensive and launch windows are scarce and there are fixed costs extending out with every delay.
Chinese apparently built Chang’e probes in spare pairs from the get go, and it’s worked out really well for them.
Yes, imagine how much more we would know about Mars if a dozen “Opportunity Class” rovers were sent to Mars, with some being targeted towards high risk but very interesting landing zones like the top of the Martian volcanoes or some of the deep valleys.
There may well be a market niche for a firm to design standardize orbiters and/or rovers that could simply have slots to plug different instruments in while the cameras, communications, power, etc., would all be standardize.
Than, since NASA seems to frown on sending the same hardware twice to space, offer them directly to universities and non-profits that could Go Fund Me and Corporate donations to pay for missions. Of course researchers contracting for such standardize spacecraft or rover could easily underbid when responding to NASA RFP for missions.
Looks like it will only be three FH this year with Psyche rescheduled.
Wouldn’t be surprising if there are no Falcon Heavy launches this year with payload readiness or lack of it. Both of the DoD missions (USSF-52 & USSF-67) have slip in the schedule already, IIRC. The commercial ViaSat-3 comsat appears to be the best candidate ready for launch this year.
At this rate, we’ll be mining asteroids in 3200ies at the earliest
Too bad. Besides the now inevitable years-long delay in arrival at Psyche, the follow on effects from cost increases probably eating into NASA’s Discovery program budget and in some cases possibly launches being delayed could be rough on other missions (starting with Janus)