Launch of the Psyche mission postponed until at least 2023

The planned launch of the Psyche mission in the autumn will take place no earlier than next year. This was announced at a NASA briefing held on June 24. The reason for the shift was problems with testing the software of the device.

Problems of the Psyche mission

The Psyche device was built by Maxar under a contract with NASA. Its target is the metal Psyche asteroid, which is presumably a fragment of a dead protoplanet. The launch of Psyche was scheduled for August 1, 2022, it was supposed to reach its goal in early 2026.

Psyche probe. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The probe successfully passed tests in a vacuum chamber, after which it was delivered to Cape Canaveral to prepare for launch. However, at the end of April, NASA announced the postponement of the launch to the autumn due to problems with the device’s software. Alas, this delay was not enough to resolve the situation. As a result, NASA had to remove Psyche from the launch manifest of 2022.

According to representatives of the project, the problems are not specifically related to the software, but to the ground simulator of the device. It is necessary to work out various technological operations and check the response of probe systems to commands. The construction of the simulator was carried out by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory using components supplied by Maxar.

Unfortunately, the simulator was not ready at the right time, which is why the mission specialists did not have time to complete the planned testing program for Psyche. As a result, NASA decided not to launch the probe with untested software.

Consequences of postponing the launch of Psyche

In the near future, NASA will assemble an independent commission that will monitor the project and determine the next steps. According to preliminary estimates, new ballistic windows for the flight of Psyche will be opened in 2023 and 2024. They will ensure the arrival to Psyche in 2029 – 2030.

Psyche in the artist’s image. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

The total budget of the Psyche mission is USD 985 million. At the moment, NASA has spent 717 million of this amount. The delay in the launch will inevitably lead to a further increase in costs, which may negatively affect other NASA projects. In addition, it will have a direct impact on the Janus mission, which was supposed to go into space with Psyche as a passing cargo. Its purpose is to study binary asteroids.

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