Psyche launch delay forces to revise Janus Mission Targets

Due to the postponement of the launch of the Psyche spacecraft, the Janus mission will no longer be able to visit the planned asteroids. Because of this, NASA had to search for alternative targets.

Postponing the launch of Psyche

At the end of May, NASA announced the postponement of the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket with the Psyche spacecraft. The reason was the problems identified during testing of its software. Because of them, NASA decided to shift the launch date from the beginning of August to the end of September.

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

But the fact is that Psyche is not the only cargo on board the Falcon Heavy. Together with it, a pair of 36-kilogram Janus probes with an identical design should also go into space. The purpose of their mission was to visit the binary asteroids 1996 FG3 and 1991 VH. The visit to 1991 VH was to take place in March 2026, the visit to 1996 FG3 — in April 2026.

New targets for the Janus mission

Unfortunately, the postponement of the Psyche mission made it impossible to fulfill the original plan. In order to achieve their goals, the Janus probes had to perform gravitational maneuvers in the vicinity of our planet. But the change in the launch date made it impossible to perform the overflights of the Earth necessary to reach the asteroid 1991 VH. As for the 1996 FG3, in theory, Janus probes can reach it if launched between October 7 and October 10. But the fact is that the new launch window for the Psyche flight closes on October 11 — and it is unlikely that NASA will want to take the risk and postpone the launch of a much higher priority mission at the end of the ballistic window.

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

The management of the Janus project understands this perfectly well and therefore has already begun to search for alternative targets. According to the engineers, they were able to identify several asteroids to which probes could be sent — but the specific choice will depend on the exact day of the launch of the Falcon Heavy.

It is worth noting that the project participants also considered the possibility of finding another “ride”, but did not find any suitable options. As for the option of launching on a separate carrier, it goes far beyond the budget of the mission. One of the key goals of which is precisely to demonstrate the possibility of studying the Solar System using small and relatively inexpensive spacecraft launched as additional cargo.

You can also read about the discovery of “molecules of life” in the samples of the asteroid Ryugu.

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