NASA postponed an asteroid expedition on Friday and cited the delayed arrival of its own navigational software as the reason. This September or October was the planned launch date for the Psyche mission to the mysterious metal asteroid of the same name. However, the agency's Jet Propulsion Lab delivered its navigation, guidance, and control software a vital component of any spacecraft many months later than expected. According to authorities, engineers "simply ran out of time" to test it.
According to NASA planetary sciences chief Lori Glaze, the space agency will now take a step back and an independent investigation will examine what went wrong, when the spacecraft may launch again, and even if it should proceed.
Psyche has already cost NASA $717 million, and its estimated final price tag, which includes the rocket it will launch on, is $985 million. The tiny spacecraft, about the size of a vehicle, was initially planned to reach its asteroid in 2026 after traveling more than a billion miles.
Since the software has been sent, the spacecraft has no known issues other than the fact that "we just haven't been able to test it," according to Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the principal scientist for the Psyche project. There was one problem, she said, "that we couldn't solve in time to launch in 2022 with confidence."
According to JPL Director Laurie Leshin, there are still at least two launch options in 2019 and more in 2024 to reach the asteroid that is located in the belt between Mars and Jupiter. Therefore, it would take Psyche till 2029 or 2030 to reach its target.
The asteroid "is spinning like a rotisserie chicken instead of like a top," Elkins-Tanton said, making it difficult to determine launch times. The mission requires the right sunshine conditions. NASA is examining what will happen to two additional modest missions that were scheduled to launch on the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.
The newest asteroid-exploring spacecraft in NASA's fleet is Psyche. With debris from the asteroid Bennu, Osiris-Rex is returning to Earth. NASA sent the spacecraft Lucy and Dart last year to investigate additional space rocks and test if a rocket might divert an asteroid from crashing onto Earth.