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Monday, September 26, 2022

Psyche, NASA’s mission to an asteroid rich in metals, has been put on hold

The launch of a NASA spacecraft that is intended to investigate what seems to be a metal asteroid that may be the core of a protoplanet that was blown apart in the early days of the solar system by a massive collision was delayed as a result of problems with the computer software that was used to control the spacecraft.

According to an announcement made by NASA on Friday, the project will not proceed in any way at all this year.

The finished spacecraft, which has been given the name Psyche after the main belt asteroid that it is intended to visit in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, is currently stationed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch of the spacecraft aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket was intended to take place there on August 1. However, the essential navigation software that was supposed to guide and control the spaceship while it travelled through space was many months behind schedule.

In addition, the testing setup, which is supposed to send signals to the spacecraft computer making it think it is already in space, did not work properly when engineers tried to merge components from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, which is managing the mission, and Maxar, the company that built the Psyche spacecraft. Maxar was responsible for the construction of the Psyche spacecraft.

According to authorities from the mission, the testing equipment is currently operational, and they are not aware of any issues with the software. However, the process of problem fixing will take many more weeks or perhaps months to complete.

NASA made the announcement a little over a month ago that the launch attempt will be postponed until no sooner than September 20, rather than August 1. The mission would have needed to get off the ground by October 11 in order to have a chance of making it to the asteroid when the circumstances were optimal for doing research on it.

NASA is in the process of putting up an impartial review team that will look at what went wrong and make recommendations for what should come next. Officials from NASA stated that it was too soon to know how much the delay would add to the total cost of $985 million, which already includes the cost of launching the Falcon Heavy. It’s also possible that the assessment panel may suggest calling off the expedition.

Because of the setback, not only will the Psyche mission be delayed, but also the Janus mission, which consists of two miniature spacecraft that are identical to one another and are scheduled to tag along for launch before departing to investigate two sets of binary asteroids. The delay from August to September had already thrown off the plans to meet the primary objectives, which were originally set. This means that the expedition will have to search for other asteroids to explore.

Friday brought improved reports from one of the other NASA missions taking place at the Kennedy Space Center. NASA engineers have been conducting practise countdowns of the rocket at the launchpad in preparation for the first launch of the Space Launch System, the enormous rocket that is going to take astronauts back to the moon. As part of these preparations, the loading of liquid propellants has also been a part of these countdowns.

The dress rehearsal that took place on Monday was the fourth time that it was attempted, and it lasted for a total of 29 seconds. The expectation at NASA was that the countdown during the practise would reach around nine seconds, right before the engines would fire for the actual launch. But a continuous leak coming from the fuel line connection prevented it from happening.

Despite this, NASA officials have concluded that they now have sufficient information to begin preparing the rocket for its launch. This launch is part of a mission that will include sending a capsule around the moon without any humans on board. The authorities said that this may still take place in late August, but it was too early to give a more definite launch date at this time.

A Boyle
I cover Science related topics for The National Era
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