NASA's metal asteroid mission's launch delayed 7 weeks by software glitch

NASA's Psyche spacecraft is seen in early 2022 on its way to the vacuum chamber at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
NASA's Psyche spacecraft is seen in early 2022 on its way to the vacuum chamber at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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.

Related: NASA's mission to metal asteroid Psyche in pictures

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.

An illustration shows the probe approaching Psyche. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin)

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.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace