NASA said Friday that its Psyche mission (named after the asteroid the mission is targeting) has been moved to October next year. The news comes just a few months after the agency announced it would definitely miss its planned 2022 launch attempt. The delayed schedule is due to late delivery of key spacecraft components, including the flight software and test equipment. The launch window for this year ended on October 11.
NASA conducted an internal assessment to determine whether the mission could launch next year, in addition to a separate independent assessment commissioned by the agency to examine the errors that prevented the launch window from passing. It seems that the review has determined that next year’s launch is an opportunity.
Though the launch window has changed, NASA said the flight profile will be similar: In 2026, the spacecraft will use Mars’ gravity to propel the spacecraft toward the asteroid Psyche. If the mission goes ahead next year, the spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at the asteroid in August 2029.
The mission, led by Arizona State University, will explore the metallic asteroid called “Psyche” located between Mars and Jupiter. It was chosen for exploration because scientists believe it to be the nickel-iron core of an earlier planet, making it a rich target for understanding how our own planet came to be. Of course, people with asteroid mining ambitions have also piqued their interest.
The total cost of the mission, including launch, is $985 million; of that, $717 million had been spent by June. Two additional projects were planned with Psyche: a NASA mission called Janus, to explore a double binary asteroid system, and a technological demonstration of high-data-rate laser communications. The latter is already integrated with the Psyche spacecraft and will launch with it, but NASA is still exploring options for Janus.
In February 2020, NASA announced that it had awarded SpaceX the launch contract worth $117 million. The agency booked a ride on a Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket currently in use and which has flown only three times in its history. (The fourth could happen as early as next week.)