Washington: NASA has canceled its planned 2022 launch of the Psyche asteroid mission – the agency’s first mission designed to study a metal-rich asteroid.
The halt is “due to a late delivery of the spacecraft’s flight software and test instruments,” which hindered the agency’s plan to complete the required testing before the remainder of this year’s launch period, which ends on October 11.
NASA said in a statement that the mission team needs more time to ensure that the software works properly in flight.
As the mission team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California began testing the system, a compatibility problem was discovered with the software’s test simulators.
In May, NASA moved the mission’s targeted launch date from August 1 to September 20 to accommodate the work required. A problem with the testbed has been identified and fixed; However, there is not enough time to complete the full checkout of the software for launch this year.
“Flying to a distant metal-rich asteroid, using Mars for gravity, assisting in the way there, takes incredible accuracy. We must fix that. Hundreds of people made a remarkable effort at Psyche during this pandemic.” is, and will continue to work as the complex flight software is thoroughly tested and evaluated,” JPL director Laurie Leshin said in the statement.
“The decision to delay the launch was not an easy one, but it is the right one,” Leshin said.
The mission’s 2022 launch period, which lasted from August 1 to October 11, would have allowed the spacecraft to reach 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 will not arrive at the asteroid until 2029 and 2030, respectively. NASA said the exact dates for these potential launch periods have yet to be determined.
“Our amazing team has overcome nearly all of the incredible challenges of building a spacecraft during COVID,” said Psyche Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University (ASU), who led the mission.
“We have overcome many hardware and software challenges, and we are finally stopped by this last problem. We just need a little more time and it will be over,” Elkins-Tanton said.
NASA selected Psyche in 2017 as part of the agency’s Discovery Program — a line of low-cost, competitive missions led by a single principal investigator.
The total life-cycle mission cost for Manas, including the rocket, is $985 million. Of this, $717 million has been spent so far. NASA said estimated costs are currently being calculated to support the full range of mission options available.