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A week before it was set to launch to a distant metal rich asteroid, NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is forced to remain grounded until the space agency resolves an issue with its thrusters.
NASA delayed the launch of its Psyche mission by a week, now targeting October 12 instead of October 5 for its liftoff, the space agency announced on Thursday. The spacecraft is scheduled to launch on board SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket at 10:16 a.m. ET from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center.
The reason behind the delay is to “complete verifications of the parameters used to control the Psyche spacecraft’s nitrogen cold gas thrusters,” NASA stated in a blog post. The thrusters are used to control the spacecraft’s momentum and orientation.
“The parameters were recently adjusted in response to updated, warmer temperature predictions for these thrusters,” NASA wrote. “Operating the thrusters within temperature limits is essential to ensure the long-term health of the units.” After the spacecraft’s thrusters have been adjusted, the launch team will rerun simulations and fine-tune adjustments before flight. The mission has launch opportunities every day between October 12 and 25, according to NASA.
The Psyche mission was originally meant to launch in 2022, but NASA delayed the launch due to issues with the spacecraft’s flight software and testing equipment. The flight software controls the spacecraft’s orientation and trajectory, as well as its ability to send and receive data to Earth.
In October 2022, NASA announced that Psyche was back on track for launch after an internal review that looked into staffing and communication issues that contributed to its delay. With the new launch window, the spacecraft will arrive at Psyche much later than originally planned, using a Mars gravity assist in 2026 to send the spacecraft on a trajectory to enter the asteroid’s orbit in August 2029 rather than early 2026.
Psyche is a 140-mile-wide (226 kilometer) asteroid that orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists believe Psyche might be the stripped down core of a shattered planetesimal, one of the building blocks that come together to form a planet. The Psyche spacecraft will orbit around its target, armed with a multispectral imager, a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, a magnetometer, and a radio instrument to map the asteroid, according to NASA.
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