NASA’s Psyche mission launch on hold indefinitely pending reevaluation

Enlarge / One of two solar arrays on NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is successfully deployed in JPL’s storied High Bay 2 clean room. The twin arrays will power the spacecraft and its science instruments during a mission to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

On Friday, NASA held a press call to announce that its planned mission to the asteroid Psyche, planned for launch this autumn, was on indefinite hold. While the spacecraft is ready and has been delivered to the Kennedy Space Center, there has been a delay in validating the software that will run the mission as it operates in remote areas of the Solar System.

That delay has pushed mission readiness past the point where the launch window closes due to alignment changes in the bodies Psyche will pass on its journey to the asteroid of the same name. NASA is saying that a mission review will evaluate all options ranging from cancellation to simply delaying the mission until the next time a window opens. Problematically, Psyche’s launch included a ride-along for a separate asteroid mission called Janus that has its own launch windows, so the review will need to include NASA’s entire Discovery Mission program more broadly.

Psyche out

The asteroid Psyche is an unusual body in the Solar System. It’s the former core of an object that was large enough to form a core of metallic elements; collisions have since stripped away the outer layers of this body, leaving behind something that’s nearly entirely metal. Accordingly, visiting Psyche provides the opportunity to improve our understanding of the formation of everything from present-day asteroids to the bodies that merged to form the planets.

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