LONG BEACH, Calif. — The launch of a NASA mission to the asteroid Psyche has been delayed by at least a month and a half due to a problem with the spacecraft’s software, the agency confirmed on 23 may.
In a brief statement to SpaceNews, NASA said it had delayed the launch of the Psyche spacecraft, previously scheduled for August 1, until September 20 at the earliest to resolve the issue. The delay was first reported by Spaceflight Now.
“A problem prevents confirmation that the software controlling the spacecraft is working as intended. The team is working to identify and correct the problem,” the agency said in a statement, but did not provide details on the specific problem. nor how it is corrected. NASA did not immediately respond to follow-up questions, including the length of the launch window.
NASA has yet to officially announce the launch slip. The mission’s website at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory still lists an August 1 launch for the early May 24 mission. The agency’s latest mission update, released May 2, discussed shipping the spacecraft from JPL to Kennedy Space Center to begin preparations for its launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy.
“Not yet public, we are working on it” tweeted Lindy Elkins-Tanton, principal investigator of the mission at Arizona State University, in response to a May 23 question about the mission’s launch delay and window.
NASA selected Psyche in January 2017 as one of two Discovery-class planetary science missions, along with the Lucy mission to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. At the time of selection, Psyche was scheduled to launch in 2023 and arrive at main-belt asteroid Psyche in 2030. However, NASA and the project agreed to bring the launch forward a year, revising its trajectory to allow it to arrive at Psyche in 2026 after a flyby of Mars in 2023.
Psyche the Spacecraft will orbit Psyche the Asteroid for at least 21 months, studying the large metallic asteroid that may be the remnant of a protoplanetary core. The spacecraft will also test a payload called Deep Space Optical Communication which uses lasers to provide high-bandwidth communications with Earth.
During the mission’s Key Decision Point C review in 2019, NASA estimated a total life cycle cost of $996.4 million for Psyche. A year ago, a Government Accountability Office report on NASA program costs and performance said the estimated cost of the mission had since fallen slightly, to $957.6 million, reflecting the cost of the Falcon launch vehicle. Heavy selected by NASA for the mission in 2020.
JPL is responsible for the overall management of Psyche, including engineering, integration and testing. Maxar built the space bus.