NASA scraps $50 million asteroid probe mission, science targets now 'inaccessible'

The Janus asteroid probes were originally intended to launch alongside Psyche on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in October.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of the two Janus spacecraft.
An artist's impression of the two Janus spacecraft.


NASA's two small Janus spacecraft will no longer fly to space, the space agency explained in an update on its website.

The two spacecraft, which cost almost $50 million to develop, were originally intended to launch to orbit alongside the Psyche spacecraft, which was scheduled to launch last year.

Now, after a delay to the launch of Psyche that led to NASA convening an independent review, the space agency has stated that the Janus probes can no longer reach their asteroid targets.

Janus mission's science targets now 'inaccessible'

The two NASA probes will be locked away inside a Lockheed Martin factory in Colorado. "After a launch postponement made its primary science targets inaccessible to the spacecraft, NASA has concluded the Janus mission and directed the project to prepare the spacecraft for long-term storage," the agency wrote in its update.

The Janus mission was meant to launch in October last year as a piggyback payload on the same rocket as NASA's larger Psyche spacecraft. Psyche was rescheduled to fly this October to its 140-mile-wide (225-kilometer) metallic asteroid target, 16 Psyche.

The Janus mission was targeting two binary asteroids that fly near each other and orbit the Sun closer than Psyche. Though the Psyche spacecraft is still able to reach its target, the asteroids targeted by Janus will have moved too far away. To reach them, the Janus probes would have to fly too far from the Sun, and their solar arrays wouldn't be able to generate the required power, NASA explained.

No current plans to deploy $50 million Janus probes in the future

For a short time, the Janus team considered repurposing the probes for a mission to another asteroid, Apophis, which was once thought likely to impact Earth in 2029. Ultimately, the Psyche delay and NASA budget constraints meant that the space agency decided to pull the plug on the project, and "prepare the spacecraft for long-term storage."

That's not to say the probes will never be used in the future, but right now, NASA has no plans to deploy the $50 million spacecraft.

NASA scraps $50 million asteroid probe mission, science targets now 'inaccessible'
An artist's impression of the Psyche spacecraft.

Problems with software testing on the Psyche spacecraft caused the delay in last year's launch. After the independent review and several changes to the mission's management infrastructure, Psyche is now back on track for liftoff in October aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

Some scientists believe 16 Psyche may contain as many as $700 quintillion worth of heavy metals, though others have argued against this estimation. NASA aims to analyze the massive space rock's composition over a two-year period after the Psyche spacecraft reaches its target in 2029.

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