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StartSpaceLaunch of NASA’s Psyche asteroid mission delayed to late September – Spaceflight...

Launch of NASA’s Psyche asteroid mission delayed to late September – Spaceflight Now


Pam Melroy, NASA’s deputy administrator, visits the Psyche spacecraft present process processing Could 19 on the Kennedy House Middle in Florida. Credit score: NASA-JPL/Wes Kuykendall

The launch of NASA’s Psyche asteroid mission, which was set for Aug. 1 on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, has been delayed to no sooner than Sept. 20 after floor groups found a problem throughout software program testing on the spacecraft, officers stated Monday.

The robotic asteroid explorer arrived at NASA’s Kennedy House Middle in Florida from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California on April 29 aboard a U.S. navy cargo aircraft. Then floor groups moved the spacecraft, packed inside a climate-controlled transport container, to a clear room on the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility.

Technicians unboxed the Psyche spacecraft and moved it to a dealing with fixture for a collection of {hardware} and software program exams to verify the probe survived the cross-country journey from California.

However a technical challenge interrupted the check marketing campaign, and can delay the launch of the Psyche mission not less than seven weeks.

“A problem is stopping affirmation that the software program controlling the spacecraft is functioning as deliberate,” NASA stated in a written assertion, responding to questions from Spaceflight Now. “The group is working to determine and proper the difficulty.”

The brand new launch readiness date for Psyche isn’t any sooner than Sept. 20, in line with Gretchen McCartney, a spokesperson at JPL, the NASA heart main the Psyche mission.

The mission has a launch interval extending from Aug. 1 into the autumn, when Earth is within the correct place within the photo voltaic system to make Psyche’s interplanetary journey possible. The spacecraft is headed for the asteroid Psyche — the spacecraft’s namesake — a metal-rich world within the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

NASA and members of the Psyche group didn’t reply to a query on the precise size of the mission’s interplanetary launch interval this yr, or when the mission’s subsequent launch interval would open after 2022.

Different work required to organize the Psyche spacecraft for launch included the set up of its deep house transponder, a part of the probe’s communications system, after it needed to be faraway from the spacecraft at JPL for troubleshooting. Floor crews additionally plan to load greater than a ton of xenon gasoline into the spacecraft’s all-electric propulsion system, then encapsulate Psyche contained in the nostril cone of its launch car.

A Falcon Heavy rocket offered by SpaceX will blast off from pad 39A at Kennedy and hurl the Psyche spacecraft on an escape trajectory away from Earth, permitting the probe to succeed in Mars in Could 2023 for a flyby maneuver, utilizing the planet’s gravity to slingshot towards its asteroid vacation spot.

The Psyche spacecraft will attain the asteroid Psyche in January 2026, then enter a collection of orbits at totally different distances to map the unexplored world. Psyche, the asteroid, has an irregular form, a mean diameter of about 140 miles (226 kilometers), and is made largely of nickel and iron metals.

Psyche was assembled and examined at JPL.  Maxar Applied sciences, a builder of economic communications satellites, offered the spacecraft’s chassis, propulsion system, and photo voltaic panels. JPL, with in depth expertise in deep house operations, offered Psyche’s flight pc, software program, and components of the communications and energy methods.

The three-and-a-half yr journey to asteroid Psyche will span 1.5 billion miles (2.4 billion kilometers). The spacecraft is designed to spend not less than 21 months learning the asteroid after arrival in 2026.

NASA chosen Psyche as a Discovery-class, cost-capped interplanetary mission in 2017, alongside the Lucy asteroid explorer, which launched final yr. The Psyche mission’s whole price is almost $1 billion, together with improvement, launch providers, and operations.

Two small spacecraft will hitch a journey to house with Psyche. NASA’s twin Janus probes, every weighing simply 80 kilos (36 kilograms), will launch on the identical Falcon Heavy rocket as Psyche, however will head off into the photo voltaic system to fly by separate asteroids.

A Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off in April 2019 with the Arabsat 6A communications satellite tv for pc. Credit score: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now

The Psyche mission will mark NASA’s first use of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, a heavy-lifter created by connecting three SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket boosters collectively. The design offers the Falcon Heavy rocket 5.1 million kilos of ground-shaking thrust at liftoff, generated by 27 Merlin foremost engines.

SpaceX launched the primary three Falcon Heavy missions in 2018 and 2019, however greater than three years can have handed between the third and fourth Falcon Heavy rocket flights.

A number of Falcon Heavy launches are probably scheduled earlier than the top of the yr, together with NASA’s Psyche mission and the industrial ViaSat 3 Americas broadband web satellite tv for pc, additionally slated to launch no sooner than the September timeframe.

The U.S. House Pressure has two Falcon Heavy missions that might launch late this yr with secret navy satellites. A kind of missions, USSF 44, had been tentatively scheduled for late June, however has been postponed indefinitely. A House Pressure spokesperson stated final week he couldn’t present an up to date schedule for the united states 44 mission.

One other House Pressure launch, designated USSF 52, can be assigned to a Falcon Heavy launch. It was initially scheduled to fly after USSF 44 within the October timeframe, however that was earlier than the newest delay in the united states 44 mission.

The entire delays to the upcoming Falcon Heavy missions have been attributable to payload points.

The House Pressure’s USSF 44 mission was imagined to launch in late 2020, and the House Pressure has attributed the schedule slips to spacecraft delays.

Viasat’s next-generation broadband satellite tv for pc, set to beam web connectivity to the Americas, has confronted manufacturing, workforce, and provider issues the corporate has partly blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic. NASA’s Psyche asteroid mission is the newest Falcon Heavy payload to run right into a launch delay.

E mail the writer.

Observe Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.



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