NASA's Psyche asteroid mission is back on track after a one-year delay

One estimate suggests the 16 Psyche asteroid contains $18 quintillion in heavy metals.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of NASA's Psyche spacecraft.
An artist's impression of NASA's Psyche spacecraft.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU 

NASA's Psyche spacecraft launch is back on track and is expected to launch in October, following an independent review process kickstarted by last year's delay to the mission.

The Psyche mission had been scheduled to launch in October last year, but a problem with the spacecraft's software postponed the launch.

Now, NASA is once again preparing to launch the spacecraft to the asteroid the mission is named after, 16 Psyche. Scientists have estimated it may contain more than the global economy's worth of heavy metals.

Review panel points to "high" probability of Psyche mission success

Following the delay of the Psyche mission last year, NASA's Science Mission Directorate and the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which manages the Psyche mission, convened an independent review. That review found that several issues, including workforce and management problems, were responsible for the delay.

Now, NASA has posted the results of a follow-up review, which assessed NASA's progress in implementing the fixes recommended by the independent review panel. NASA posted the new results, which were presented to the space agency on May 30, showing that the Psyche mission is in a much better position than last year.

"The IRB believes the response to our Psyche project and JPL institution findings and recommendations to be excellent," retired aerospace executive A. Thomas Young, who led the IRB, explained during a press conference on Monday, June 5. "We believe that Psyche is on a positive course for an October 2023 launch," he added. "We believe the 2023 launch readiness date is credible, and the overall probability of mission success is high."

Space mining companies, such as AstroForge, which recently launched a test satellite into orbit, will be keeping a keen eye on the mission. Psyche could prove that there is an abundance of wealth ready to be mined on our cosmic doorstep. However, some scientists have argued against the estimation that 16 Psyche contains $700 quintillion in heavy metals.

NASA's Psyche asteroid mission is back on track after a one-year delay
An artist's illustration of the Psyche spacecraft.

The mission will also investigate whether 16 Psyche is a "partial core of a shattered planetesimal — a small world the size of a city or small country that is the first building block of a planet," according to NASA's mission description.

NASA's Psyche delay impacts Venus probe plans

Last year's delay still had a significant negative impact on the mission, however. If Psyche had launched last year, it would have reached its target asteroid in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter in early 2026. Now, even if it does launch this year, it will arrive in August 2029. That's because the spacecraft will now have to take a different path based on the alignment of the planets.

NASA's VERITAS Venus probe mission also seems to have been indirectly impacted by the delay. The VERITAS mission's launch has been pushed back from 2027 to no earlier than 2031, and we now know this may be partly due to the extra work that had to be carried out on Psyche.

"What happened with VERITAS is, it didn't ramp up as expected, and Psyche stayed ramped up longer," JPL Director Laurie Leshin stated at the same press conference. "Psyche has been staffed for most of this year at about 160 JPLers," she added. "And some of those may have gone off to work VERITAS if [Psyche had] launched, but I'm not certain of those numbers."

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