NASA has been developing a spacecraft to explore the metal-rich main belt asteroid 16 Psyche, which may be the metal core of a protoplanet and provide insight into planetary formation as well as a glimpse of the resources available in the asteroid belt. The Psyche mission was selected for development in January 2017, with launch scheduled for July 2022 on a Falcon Heavy which would permit the spacecraft to arrive at Psyche in 2026. Yesterday, 2022-06-24, in a press release, “NASA Announces Launch Delay for Psyche Asteroid Mission”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a NASA media teleconference (audio only recording) about the Psyche mission delay and plans for launch opportunities in the future.