NASA postpones Psyche asteroid mission launch due to thruster problemwith the new liftoff date set for October 12 instead of the originally scheduled October 5. The spacecraft is slated to embark on its mission aboard SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket, taking off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center at 10:16 a.m. ET.
While the central core of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy eventually splashes down into the ocean, the rocket employs two reusable side boosters. Roughly two minutes after liftoff, these side boosters detach, descend, and perform synchronized landings at Cape Canaveral Spaceport Station.
The delay is necessary to conduct thorough verifications of the parameters that govern the operation of the nitrogen cold gas thrusters on the Psyche spacecraft, according to a NASA blog post. These thrusters play a critical role in controlling the spacecraft's momentum and orientation.
NASA explained that the parameters controlling the Psyche spacecraft's nitrogen cold gas thrusters were recently adjusted in response to updated, warmer temperature predictions for these thrusters. Maintaining thrusters within temperature limits is crucial for ensuring the long-term health of these components.
Once the adjustments to the thrusters are completed, the launch team will conduct simulations and fine-tune adjustments before the spacecraft takes flight. NASA has identified launch opportunities available every day from October 12 to October 25 for the Psyche mission.
Originally scheduled for launch in 2022, the Psyche mission faced delays due to issues with the spacecraft's flight software and testing equipment. The flight software is responsible for controlling the spacecraft's orientation, trajectory, and ability to transmit and receive data with Earth.
In October 2022, NASA confirmed that the Psyche mission was back on track for launch following an internal review that addressed staffing and communication challenges that contributed to the initial delay.
With the new launch window, the spacecraft will reach Psyche much later than initially planned. It will utilize a Mars gravity assist in 2026 to set the spacecraft on a trajectory to enter the asteroid's orbit in August 2029, as opposed to the originally planned early 2026 arrival.
The spacecraft for the Psyche mission ready for launch
Psyche is a substantial asteroid measuring approximately 140 miles (226 kilometers) in width, situated in orbit between Mars and Jupiter around the Sun. Scientists hypothesize that the Psyche could represent the exposed core of a fragmented planetesimal, which are fundamental constituents that amalgamate to construct planets.
The Psyche spacecraft is primed for a mission to orbit this celestial body and is equipped with an array of scientific instruments, including a multispectral imager, a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, a magnetometer, and a radio instrument. These tools will enable NASA to meticulously map and study the asteroid.
Henry Stone, the project manager for Psyche at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, stated during a press briefing that the thrust generated by these engines is akin to the weight of an AA battery resting in the palm of your hand. What sets these thrusters apart from conventional chemical engines on spacecraft is their continuous operation, working around the clock.
With the engines operating continuously the spacecraft will pick up thousands of miles per hour speed in order to reach our destination.- Henry Stone
In 2017, when NASA gave the green light to the Psyche mission, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the mission's principal investigator from Arizona State University, playfully engaged in a basic yet intriguing calculation. During an interview, she was asked about the hypothetical value of the asteroid if its metals were to be sold on the current market, and her estimate reached an astounding $10,000 quadrillion. This figure caught the public's attention, but it's important to emphasize that this value isn't practically attainable.
In reality, there are several factors that make this estimate implausible. Firstly, Psyche is situated at a vast distance from Earth, making any mining operation completely unfeasible. NASA's mission to Psyche does not involve bringing back samples from the asteroid, and there are no plans to tow it into Earth's orbit.
Moreover, even if somehow Psyche could be transported back to Earth, the sheer quantity of metal it contains would flood the metals market and render it essentially worthless. Nevertheless, this imaginative calculation garnered significant media attention for the mission.