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NASA Announces Launch Delay for Psyche Asteroid Mission; Thomas Zurbuchen Quoted

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NASA Announces Launch Delay for Psyche Asteroid Mission; Thomas Zurbuchen Quoted

NASA announced on Friday that the agency will not make its planned 2022 launch for its Psyche asteroid mission, the first mission designed to study a metal-rich asteroid, as a result of the late delivery of the spacecraft’s flight software and testing equipment.

“NASA takes the cost and schedule commitments of its projects and programs very seriously,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “We are exploring options for the mission in the context of the Discovery Program, and a decision on the path forward will be made in the coming months.”

Originally set for launch on Oct. 11th, NASA needs more time to ensure that the software will function properly in flight. The independent assessment team will review possible options for next steps, including estimated costs.

The flight software will control the orientation of the spacecraft as it flies through space, sends data back to Earth and receives commands. It also provides trajectory information to the spacecraft’s solar electric propulsion system, which begins operations 70 days after launch.

“Flying to a distant metal-rich asteroid, using Mars for a gravity assist on the way there, takes incredible precision. We must get it right. Hundreds of people have put remarkable effort into Psyche during this pandemic, and the work will continue as the complex flight software is thoroughly tested and assessed,” said JPL Director Laurie Leshin. “The decision to delay the launch wasn’t easy, but it is the right one.”

The next potential launch points for the Psyche asteroid mission could be as early as 2023 or be pushed back to 2024. However, the space travel logistics mean the spacecraft would not arrive at the asteroid until 2029 and 2030, respectively.

NASA selected Psyche in 2017 as part of the agency’s Discovery Program, a line of low-cost, competitive missions. The agency is forming an independent assessment team to review the path forward for the project.