NASA’s Psyche mission to an unexplored metal world comes to a halt

Jun 24, 2022, 5:16 PM | Updated: Jun 25, 2022, 8:52 pm
NASA's first spacecraft designed to study a metallic asteroid won't be launching this year as plann...
NASA's first spacecraft designed to study a metallic asteroid won't be launching this year as planned, according to an announcement made by the agency on June 24. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images via CNN)
(Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images via CNN)

(CNN) — NASA’s first spacecraft designed to study a metallic asteroid won’t be launching this year as planned, according to an announcement made by the agency on Friday.

The Psyche mission’s 2022 launch window, which opened on August 1 and closes on October 11, will come to an end before the spacecraft’s flight software is ready. A delay in delivering the software and its testing equipment has prevented the Psyche team from having enough time for testing prior to launch.

Engineers want to be absolutely sure that the software will function as expected once the spacecraft is in flight.

Used to control the spacecraft’s orientation as it flies through space, guidance and navigation software help point its antenna toward Earth for communications and relaying data. The software also provides the spacecraft’s propulsion system with trajectory information.

During testing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, engineers discovered a compatibility issue in the software’s test bed simulators. The issue has since been corrected, but there isn’t enough time for a full checkout and launch in 2022.

The space agency will form an independent assessment team to review the mission and determine a path forward, including estimated costs and potential launch opportunities in 2023 and 2024. The Psyche spacecraft is currently housed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Flying to a distant metal-rich asteroid, using Mars for a gravity assist on the way there, takes incredible precision. We must get it right. Hundreds of people have put remarkable effort into Psyche during this pandemic, and the work will continue as the complex flight software is thoroughly tested and assessed,” said JPL Director Laurie Leshin. “The decision to delay the launch wasn’t easy, but it is the right one.”

Timing for the mission makes things difficult moving forward. A 2022 launch would have delivered the spacecraft to the asteroid, also known as Psyche, by 2026. But launch periods in the coming years mean that the spacecraft would arrive much later due to different orbital positions, such as 2029 or 2030.

“Our amazing team has overcome almost all of the incredible challenges of building a spacecraft during COVID,” said Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Psyche’s principal investigator and foundation and regents professor at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

“We have conquered numerous hardware and software challenges, and we’ve been stopped in the end by this one last problem. We just need a little more time and will get this one licked, too. The team is ready to move forward, and I’m so grateful for their excellence.”

The delay will also halt two projects that were set to ride along with Psyche on the same SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket at launch.

The first is NASA’s Janus mission, which was designed to study twin binary asteroid systems, and the second is the Deep Space Optical Communications technology demonstration. This demo is designed to test high-data-rate laser communications that could change the way ground teams communicate with spacecraft across deep space.

The spacecraft also has a number of innovations, like ion propulsion rather than traditional rocket fuel.

If the decision is made to launch Psyche in the coming years, the spacecraft will embark on a 280 million-mile (450 million-kilometer) journey. The Psyche asteroid is so metal-rich, some scientists believe it’s the exposed core of a planetesimal, or a planet in the making that separated into layers.

Collisions with other celestial objects over time might have stripped away the outer layers, exposing the remaining metallic core. If Psyche truly is a core, studying it would be like peering inside the very heart of a planet like Earth.

The potato-shaped asteroid only appears as a fuzzy blur to ground- and space-based telescopes. The unusual object could also be a piece of primordial material that never melted, according to NASA.

The results from the assessment team will determine if this mission launches in the coming years or becomes grounded.

“I want to stress that NASA remains fully committed to scientific discovery and exploration of small bodies,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

“This is exemplified by our existing missions OSIRIS-REx, Lucy and DART. We are anxiously anticipating the review of Psyche tests to better understand what that path forward will look like.”

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories


This screen grab shows a tourist moments before his bungee cord snapped during a jump in Pattaya, T...
Chris Lau and Kocha Olarn

Tourist survives bungee jump fall in Thailand after cord snaps

Some thrill seekers describe bungee jumping as a near-death experience, but few come quite as close as one man who managed to survive his cord snapping in Thailand.
12 hours ago
PONTIAC, MI - MARCH 22: Jennifer Crumbley and her husband James Crumbley, parents of the alleged te...
Lauren del Valle and Zoe Sottile

Ethan Crumbley’s parents will stand trial for involuntary manslaughter

The parents of the Oxford High School shooter will stand trial on four counts of involuntary manslaughter the appellate court says.
12 hours ago
A wolverine was spotted Monday by people fishing on the Columbia River near Portland. (Cascadia Wil...
Amanda Jackson

Wolverine spotted outside its normal range for the first time in over 30 years

A wolverine was spotted this week by people fishing on the Columbia River near Portland, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
12 hours ago
Mortgage rates dropped again this week for the second week in a row. This image shows a residential...
Anna Bahney

Mortgage rates fall for a second week

Mortgage rates dropped again this week for the second week in a row amid lingering concerns about bank failures and uncertainty in the financial markets.
12 hours ago
The Prince of Wales met members of the Polish military during a visit to the 3rd Brigade Territoria...
Max Foster and Lauren Said-Moorhouse

Prince William makes surprise visit to troops near Ukrainian-Polish border

Britain's Prince William made a rare, unannounced trip to Poland on Wednesday, meeting British and Polish troops stationed near the Ukrainian-Polish border and praising their "cooperation in support of the people of Ukraine and their freedom."
2 days ago
Two adult victims are injured in a shooting at Denver high school on Wednesday. (KCNC via CNN)...
Eric Levenson and Andi Babineau

Search underway for student who shot 2 staff members at Denver high school, officials say

A male student shot and wounded two faculty members at a Denver high school on Wednesday and then fled the scene, spurring a citywide search for his whereabouts, according to city officials.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Close up of an offset printing machine during production...
Les Olson IT

Top 7 Reasons to Add a Production Printer to Your Business

Learn about the different digital production printers and how they can help your company save time and money.
vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
NASA’s Psyche mission to an unexplored metal world comes to a halt