No suitable targets for the ready-made NASA probes

NASA has decided to remove a pair of Janus probes from the launch manifest of the Falcon Heavy rocket, which will launch the Psyche mission. The reason was the lack of suitable targets for them.

Janus Mission Targets

The Janus mission was developed as part of the SIMPLEx-2 (Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration) program, which provides for the study of Solar System objects using small and relatively inexpensive spacecraft. Both probes have an identical design. Their mass is 36 kg, the scientific filling consists of two cameras capable of taking images in the visible and infrared range.

The concept of the Janus mission. Source: Janus illustration — Lockheed Martin

The probes’ targets were to be pairs of binary asteroids (175706) 1996 FG3 and (35107) 1991 VH, they are part of the Apollo family. Their flight was supposed to take place in 2026.

Consequences of postponing the launch

The Janus probes were planned to be sent into space as a passing cargo on a Falcon Heavy rocket together with the interplanetary vehicle Psyche. The launch was scheduled for August 2022.

Launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket. Source: SpaceX

However, after Psyche was delivered to Cape Canaveral, NASA announced the decision to postpone the launch. The reason for the incident was called the unavailability of the ground simulator of the device. After an independent commission conducted an audit of the project, NASA announced its intention to continue its implementation. October 2023 was named as the new launch date for Psyche.

Unfortunately, this shift put an end to the scientific program and the Janus flight plan. After making calculations, the mission staff announced that when launched in October 2023, Janus would not be able to reach either its original target asteroids or any other small bodies of interest in the Solar System. Because of this, the probes already assembled and ready for launch will be stored indefinitely in the VAB of the Lockheed Martin company that built them. At the moment, it is unknown when and to which asteroids they can be launched.

According to

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