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It’s time for NASA to pause the Psyche mission to an asteroid rich in metal

ScienceIt's time for NASA to pause the Psyche mission to an asteroid rich in metal

The launch of a NASA spacecraft that is intended to investigate what seems to be a metal asteroid that may be the core of a protoplanet that was blown apart in the early days of the solar system by a massive collision was delayed as a result of problems with the computer software that was used to control the spacecraft.

According to an announcement made by NASA on Friday, the project will not proceed in any way at all this year.

The finished spacecraft, which has been given the name Psyche after the main belt asteroid that it is intended to visit in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, is currently stationed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch of the spacecraft, which was intended to take place on August 1 aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, was originally scheduled to originate from Florida. However, the essential navigation software that was supposed to guide and control the spaceship while it travelled through space was many months behind schedule.

In addition, the testing setup, which is supposed to send signals to the spacecraft computer making it think it is already in space, did not work properly when engineers tried to merge components from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, which is managing the mission, and Maxar, the company that built the Psyche spacecraft. Maxar was responsible for the construction of the Psyche spacecraft.

According to authorities from the mission, the testing equipment is currently operational, and they are not aware of any issues with the software. However, the process of problem fixing will take an additional few weeks to a few months to complete.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University, who was the main investigator for the mission, said on Friday at a press conference that “We simply ran out of time on this one.”

NASA made the announcement a little over a month ago that the launch attempt will be postponed until no sooner than September 20, rather than August 1. The mission would have needed to get off the ground by October 11 in order to have a chance of making it to the asteroid when the circumstances were optimal for doing research on it.

The director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Laurie Leshin, stated that “we have looked at many, many options,” and despite making a very aggressive adjustment, “we did not feel confident enough that we would reach this,” meaning that we would successfully reach this window with a mission that we were confident to fly.

NASA is in the process of putting up an impartial review team that will look at what went wrong and make recommendations for what should come next. Officials from NASA said that it was too soon to determine how much the delay would add to the total cost of $985 million, which already includes the cost of launching the Falcon Heavy. It’s also possible that the assessment panel may suggest calling off the expedition.

In 2017, NASA chose the Psyche project to be one of two low-cost missions that were proposed by scientists. The second spacecraft, known as Lucy, was launched a year ago with the purpose of researching so-called Trojan asteroids, which are objects that get stuck in the same orbit as Jupiter due to the gravity of the planet. That spacecraft has been experiencing issues with one of its solar power arrays, but it has not stopped its forward progress.

Based on studies from radar, the asteroid Psyche seems to have an ellipsoid form and is about as broad as Massachusetts. It also has a far higher density than the majority of asteroids.

A further factor that lends credence to the theory that Psyche is composed of metal is its brilliant appearance.

The launch of the mission had been anticipated to take place in 2023, but since development moved more quickly than expected, the launch date was brought up by one year. If the original trajectory had been followed, the destination would have been reached in 2030 rather than 2026.

The Psyche mission team is now evaluating the possibility of launching the spacecraft in 2023 or 2024. However, the spacecraft would not arrive to the asteroid until 2029 or 2030.

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