NASA's Psyche asteroid probe will wait several more weeks for launch.
The agency announced on Tuesday (May 24) that a software problem with the Psyche spacecraft would delay the launch to at least Sept. 20, roughly seven weeks after the expected Aug. 1 launch. The issue was first reported (opens in new tab) by Spaceflight Now.
"An issue is preventing confirmation that the software controlling the spacecraft is functioning as planned," the agency spokesperson told Space.com. While not elaborating on what the specific issue is, or its correction, the spokesperson added that the team is "working to identify and correct the issue."
The close of the launch opportunity also isn't ready for public release, according to a May 23 tweet from Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a planetary scientist and principal investigator for the mission at Arizona State University. "Not yet public, we're working on it," Elkins-Tanton said (opens in new tab) in response to a question about the launch window, although she noted that the delay won't affect the spacecraft's arrival date.
After its launch, Psyche is scheduled to swing past Mars nine months later to pick up speed to arrive at its target asteroid, also called Psyche, in 2026. This will be NASA's first mission to a metallic asteroid.
Psyche recently passed a gauntlet of "shake-and-bake" procedures at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, receiving a clean bill of health following exposures to vacuum, electrical and magnetic conditions, and radiation.
"The tests show that, yes, the spacecraft is flightworthy," Randy Lindemann, the JPL engineer who oversaw Psyche’s dynamics testing, said in an agency statement in April.
NASA selected Psyche in January 2017 along with a mission called Lucy that launched in October 2021 and will visit the Trojan asteroids of Jupiter. Both missions are Discovery-class planetary science missions.
Psyche was initially supposed to launch in 2023 and arrive at its namesake asteroid in 2030, but NASA later elected to move the launch up a year for an earlier arrival date.
Psyche is tasked with examining the asteroid for at least 21 months to learn more about how rare metallic asteroids may play a role in planetary formation. Engineers will also assess laser communication capabilities as part of a series of spacecraft tests to test higher-bandwidth communications over traditional radio.