The launch of the Psyche asteroid mission has been postponed for a week due to the need to ensure the functionality of the spacecraft’s nitrogen gas thrusters. NASA has rescheduled the launch for October 12 instead of the previous date of October 5.
NASA’s Psyche spacecraft was scheduled to launch a metal-rich asteroid, but it is grounded until the thruster issue is resolved. The thrusters are critical in controlling the spacecraft’s momentum and orientation. The launch is planned for 10:16 a.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center.
During a Flight Readiness Review (FRR) meeting on September 28 involving NASA, SpaceX, and Psyche mission managers, it was decided that more time was needed to guarantee the mission’s success.
The FRR provided updates on the mission status and the readiness for final launch preparations, including a static fire test on September 29.
The good news is that the Psyche mission has launch opportunities every day from October 12 to October 25.
Despite the additional delay, the $1 billion-plus mission remains on track to explore the asteroid and bring back valuable information.
Reason Behind NASA Delay
NASA needs to verify the Psyche spacecraft’s nitrogen cold gas thruster parameters, which are essential for the vehicle’s power, thermal, and science demands, as well as its orientation and momentum management.
This change was made because the parameters had to be adjusted due to updated warmer temperature predictions to ensure the long-term health of the units.
NASA will conduct simulations and fine-tune adjustments after adjusting the spacecraft thrusters before launching. According to NASA, the launch window is open every day from October 12 to 25.
NASA has updated the parameters controlling the nitrogen cold gas thrusters of the Psyche spacecraft to complete verifications. These thrusters are essential for spacecraft orientation, momentum management, and meeting thermal, power, and other requirements.
The parameters were adjusted due to revised temperature forecasts for the thrusters.
Keeping the temperature within limits is crucial to ensure the thrusters’ long-term health.
After changing the spacecraft thrusters, NASA will conduct simulations and fine-tune adjustments before launching the mission.
Initially planned for 2022, the Psyche mission was postponed due to flight software and testing equipment issues. However, an internal review confirmed the launch in October 2022, with its arrival at Psyche expected by August 2029, aided by a Mars gravity assist in 2026, according to NASA.
NASA Psyche Spacecraft
Psyche, an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter, has a diameter of 140 miles (226 kilometers). According to scientists, it may be the remaining core of a fragmented planetesimal that combined to form planets.
The Psyche spacecraft will be equipped with various instruments to study this fascinating asteroid, including a multispectral imager, a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, a magnetometer, and a radio instrument to map the asteroid’s surface.
NASA will perform verification activities, such as running simulations and making necessary flight parameters and procedures adjustments, to ensure the mission’s success.
NASA faced a delay in delivering the guidance, navigation, and control (GNC) flight code, which led to an independent review board being appointed to investigate.
The committee found that a lack of staff, high turnover, burnout, and the COVID-19 pandemic were responsible for the delay.
To ensure sufficient testing could be conducted, NASA set a launch date of October 5, 2023.
However, due to the need to complete verifications of the parameters used to control the Psyche spacecraft’s nitrogen cold gas thrusters, the mission has been rescheduled for October 12, 2023.
Engineers will spend the additional time rerunning simulations and checking flight parameters to ensure the thrusters are running correctly. The successful operation of the nitrogen cold gas thrusters is crucial.
The Psyche craft will heavily rely on them to regulate its orientation as it travels through space towards the target asteroid, 16 Psyche.
NASA Psyche Travel Distance
The upcoming mission for Psyche is set to travel 2.2 billion miles (3.5 billion kilometers) to reach the asteroid 16 Psyche, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Scientists have hypothesized that the asteroid’s high metal content suggests it could be the core of a failed terrestrial planet, and studying its composition and properties could be invaluable in understanding the formation of rocky planets like Earth.
If all goes according to plan, Psyche is expected to reach the asteroid in August 2029 and spend over two years orbiting it.
This mission will also test a new high-bandwidth optical communications system that could benefit future Mars exploration missions.
Aside from its scientific significance, the Psyche mission has also gained attention due to estimates that the asteroid could be valued at $10,000 quadrillion.
However, it should be noted that this is an impractical value as the asteroid cannot be mined or brought back to Earth. The Psyche mission has enormous potential for scientific discoveries and technological advancements.
Interesting Facts: NASA Psyche Mission
Did you know that NASA’s upcoming Psyche mission is launching on October 10? Here are seven interesting facts about the mission:
- The asteroid could be the core of a planet, providing a unique opportunity for exploration.
- It is estimated to be worth $10,000 quadrillion, but this is impractical as it cannot be mined or brought back to Earth.
- The asteroid may have a golden-green tint due to its potential history of hosting sulfur volcanoes.
- It will launch from the historic “Apollo Pad” at Kennedy Space Center.
- The SpaceX Falcon Heavy, used for launching the Psyche mission, will have two reusable rockets as side boosters.
- Psyche’s solar electric propulsion system uses charged xenon gas atoms to create thrust, gradually increasing the spacecraft’s speed.
- It will slingshot past Mars in 2026, which will help propel the spacecraft toward its destination. The mission will reach the asteroid in August 2029 and spend over two years orbiting it.
It is sure to be an exciting mission to watch.
Written by Janet Grace Ortigas
GIZMODO: NASA Delays Launch of Psyche Asteroid Mission Due to Thruster Issue; by Passant Rabie
SciTechDaily: Cold Gas Thrusters Heat Up: NASA’s Psyche Mission Launch Pushed Back; by NASA
The Register: NASA delays already-late $1B Psyche probe’s visit to metal-rich asteroid; by Katyanna Quach
Forbes: 7 Strange Things To Know About This Week’s NASA Mission To A ‘$10,000 Quadrillion’ Asteroid; Jamie Carter
Top and Featured Image by SpaceX Courtesy of Unsplash
First Inset Image by Laurena Heymann Courtesy of Unsplash
Second Inset Image by Bryan Goff Courtesy of Unsplash
Third Inset Image by NASA Courtesy of Unsplash
Fourth Inset Image by NASA Courtesy of Unsplash