NASA’s asteroid mission will be launched in October 2023

NASA has published an independent commission report on the preparation of the Psyche mission. The document confirms that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has fulfilled all the necessary recommendations and is ready to launch the spacecraft in October 2023.

Problems of the Psyche mission

The goal of the Psyche mission is Psyche, a 280-kilometer asteroid with a high metal content. Many scientists suspect that it is a fragment of the core of a protoplanet that has collapsed at the dawn of the existence of the Solar System. Psyche should check this assumption.

The Psyche spacecraft is in a clean room. Source: Astotech/NASA

Initially, the launch of Psyche was supposed to take place back in August 2022. It was planned that the spacecraft would reach its goal in early 2026. But in the end, NASA had to postpone the launch for more than a year. The reason was the unavailability of ground equipment, which made it impossible to perform all the required checks and tests.

After the problems with the project were revealed, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (it is engaged in the assembly of Psyche and the general management of the project) was checked by an independent commission. Based on the results of its work, a report was published describing the rather serious institutional problems of the institution and a list of recommendations for their elimination.

New launch date

On May 30, the commission investigating JPL published a new report. The document highly positively assesses the measures taken by the organization to implement all the recommendations. In particular, JPL has allocated additional resources and staff for Psyche. This made it possible to eliminate the shortcomings and prepare the spacecraft for the new launch window, which would open in October 2023.

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

The updated flight plan assumes that Psyche will be launched by a Falcon Heavy rocket in the period from October 5 to October 25, 2023. In 2026, the spacecraft will perform a gravitational maneuver in the vicinity of Mars. This will allow it to reach Psyche in August 2029 — 3.5 years later than originally expected.

At the same time, although JPL managed to cope with the problems of Psyche, the consequences of postponing its launch would affect other NASA projects for a long time. For example, it left the Janus mission out of work — a pair of identical probes that were supposed to go into space as a passing cargo and fly over several binary asteroids. Currently, the spacecraft are in stock, while specialists are trying to find a new rocket and target for them.

The Venusian VERITAS mission also came under attack. Due to the fact that JPL has transferred all available resources to Psyche, the implementation of this project has been put on pause. According to unofficial data, NASA is considering the possibility of canceling projects altogether.

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