NASA Scraps Plan to Launch Solar Electric-Powered Asteroid Hunter in 2022

Psyche mission scrubbed for this year 9 photos
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Psyche missionThe photo on the left captures an operating electric Hall thruster identical to those that will propel NASA's Psyche spacecraft, while the photo on the right shows a similar non-operating Hall thrusterNASA's Psyche spacecraft is photographed in July 2021 during the mission's assembly, test, and launch operations phaseNASA's Psyche spacecraft is photographed in July 2021 during the mission's assembly, test, and launch operations phaseNASA's Psyche spacecraft is photographed in July 2021 during the mission's assembly, test, and launch operations phaseIllustration of NASA's Psyche spacecraftNASA Psyche spacecraftPsyche asteroid
Sometime between the beginning of August and October 11 this year, a special type of spacecraft was supposed to leave planet Earth on a mission to hunt a “unique metal asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.” Because of supply issues, that will no longer happen.
Psyche is the name of the asteroid being hunted, and Psyche is also the name of the spaceship put together by Maxar Technologies for NASA and the Arizona State University.

The size of a tennis court (81 feet/24.76 meters long, 24 feet/7.34 meters wide), Psyche (the spacecraft) is equipped with scientific instruments that will allow it to study Psyche (the asteroid), a piece of rock 140 miles (226 km) in diameter, that is one of the first asteroids our species ever discovered, all the way back in 1852.

Most importantly, the thing is not unlike an exposed nickel-iron planet core, providing the promise of incredible discoveries. This is why the hardware being sent out there is extremely complex, down to the solar electric propulsion system that should have gotten it to its destination in 2026.

Such a complex machinery needs a lot of complex testing, of course, but this week NASA said it finds itself in the impossibility of completing them all by the time the launch window closes in October, due to “late delivery of the spacecraft’s flight software and testing equipment.”

So, there will be no launch this year, and now NASA is trying to figure out how will it go forward with this mission. There are launch windows coming in 2023 and 2024, but that would put the spacecraft’s arrival at the asteroid in 2029 and 2030, because of the relative orbital positions of Earth and the asteroid, meaning four years behind schedule in the worst-case scenario.

“Our amazing team has overcome almost all of the incredible challenges of building a spacecraft during COVID,” said in a statement Psyche Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University (ASU), who leads the mission.

“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.”
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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