Asteroid mission Psyche will set off in October
After more than a year of delays, a NASA mission to a huge metallic asteroid is set to launch in October, but the mission may be affected by a problem beyond of the agency’s control.
Project officials stated at a briefing on September 6 that everything was on track for the launch of the Psyche mission to the named asteroid. The mission is planned to launch from the Kennedy Space Centre on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket between October 5 and October 25.
“One month out, we are in great shape,” said Laurie Leshin, head of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which oversaw mission development.
The xenon utilised for the spacecraft’s electric propulsion system is fully fueled, and it is prepared to be connected with the launch vehicle. According to Serkan Bastug, mission manager for NASA’s Launch Services Programme, the Falcon Heavy rocket will undergo a static-fire test on the launch pad roughly a week before liftoff. Psyche will be connected with the car following the test.
The project and the agency are unable to control one wildcard, despite the fact that officials indicated launch preparations are proceeding well. A continuing resolution (CR), a stopgap spending measure, will be required to support the government after September 30 because Congress is currently debating a number of appropriations measures for the upcoming fiscal year. Republicans in the House have stated that they would not support a continuing resolution (CR) if it did not include legislative elements that would be impossible to pass the Senate.
Many ongoing NASA missions would be impacted by a partial government shutdown if Congress fails to pass a CR. The director of NASA’s planetary research division, Lori Glaze, stated that she would make an effort to request a waiver so that the Psyche mission could proceed.
“We are, of course, monitoring that very, very closely,” she said of the threat of a shutdown. “In the past, NASA has been prepared to request a waiver for operations, essential mission and launch personnel to ensure that missions can meet their launch period, and we are certainly prepared to follow that same path here.”
NASA stated that operations of the International Space Station and other spacecraft already launched, as well as space launch hardware processing activities “necessary to prevent harm to life or property,” were recognised as “excepted activities” in a plan created in December 2018, just before the most recent shutdown. However, it went on to say that “unfunded work will typically be suspended on that project” for missions that haven’t yet taken off.
Psyche was supposed to launch last August, but due to delays in testing the spacecraft’s guidance, navigation, and control software, it missed its launch window. This prompted a wider investigation into institutional problems at JPL, including as a lack of coordination between teams and management understanding of the programmes that caused Psyche’s delays.
Although those problems have been resolved, the mission’s cost has gone up. Psyche’s estimated cost at the time of its confirmation was $996.4 million. According to Glaze, the new price is around $1.2 billion.
The delay will cause Psyche to arrive near the asteroid in 2029 as well. Psyche’s chief investigator at Arizona State University, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, said, “It is a long time, but we have plenty of science planning to accomplish.
The spacecraft will spend more than two years orbiting Psyche in a series of progressively lower orbits, where it will examine the metallic asteroid with a variety of cameras, spectrometers, and other sensors. Scientists anticipate that Psyche, which will be the first solar system object primarily comprised of metal to be visited by a spaceship, will shed light on the creation of the solar system and the interiors of terrestrial planets.
Another factor that has drawn attention to the project is an estimate of $10,000 quadrillion that Elkins-Tanton made for the asteroid years ago based on its mass and the worth of metals like iron and nickel.