A NASA mission to explore one of the most intriguing objects in the asteroid belt is getting a second chance. The Psyche mission is now targeting a launch period in 2023 after missing its initial window this year due to development delays.
NASA decided to go ahead with its Psyche mission following an internal review of the issues that led to its delay, the space agency announced on Friday. The mission is now targeting a new launch window that opens on October 20, 2023, with the spacecraft launching aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
In June, NASA delayed the launch of the Psyche spacecraft due to issues with its flight software and testing equipment. The spacecraft’s flight software controls its orientation and trajectory, as well as its ability to send and receive data to Earth. The issue could not be resolved in time to allow for liftoff before this year’s launch window closed on October 11.
Instead, NASA put together an independent review board to go over the issues that led to the delay and assess whether or not the spacecraft should still launch. The “continuation/termination review” gave the go-ahead for Psyche’s launch with a similar trajectory to the original one, using a Mars gravity assist in 2026 to send the spacecraft on its way to the asteroid Psyche.
“During this review, [the Psyche team has] demonstrated significant progress already made toward the future launch date,” JPL Director Laurie Leshin said in a statement. “I am confident in the plan moving forward and excited by the unique and important science this mission will return.”
With the new launch window, the spacecraft will arrive at Psyche much later than originally planned, entering orbit around the asteroid in August 2029 rather than early 2026. It’s still better late than never for the highly-anticipated mission, which will explore the metal-rich asteroids it’s named after.
Psyche is a 140-mile-wide (226 kilometer) asteroid that orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists believe Psyche might be the stripped down core of a shattered planetesimal, one of the building blocks that come together to form a planet.
The Psyche spacecraft will orbit around its target to map it using a multispectral imager, a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, a magnetometer, and a radio instrument, according to NASA. By studying the Psyche asteroid, scientists may learn more about the interiors of terrestrial planets like Earth.
While the Psyche mission got a second chance at launching to space, NASA is still trying to figure out what to do with the Janus mission, which was meant to piggyback with Psyche during its original launch window. Janus is one of three planned missions under NASA’s Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx-2) program, and is designed to study two separate binary asteroid systems.
“NASA continues to assess options for its Janus mission,” the space agency wrote. But for now, the space agency is anticipating the launch of Psyche and the ability to explore the unique space rock. “The lessons learned from Psyche will be implemented across our entire mission portfolio,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement. “I am excited about the science insights Psyche will provide during its lifetime and its promise to contribute to our understanding of our own planet’s core.”
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