NASA’s Psyche asteroid probe, set to launch on October 12, experienced a potential setback just two weeks before its scheduled departure. During pre-flight tests, an issue was discovered with the spacecraft’s thrusters. Incorrect data provided by a subcontractor regarding the cold gas thrusters was the cause of concern. However, the fix for the problem was relatively straightforward, only requiring updated parameters for operating the mission.
The $1.2 billion mission, aimed at studying the unusual metallic asteroid Psyche, had already faced delays in the past due to software development and testing falling behind schedule. The recent delay was caused by the need to verify parameters for the spacecraft’s nitrogen cold gas thrusters. Fortunately, the fix did not require any hardware or software changes, but rather just updated parameters for the probe’s flight computer.
The updated parameters will now instruct the probe to fire the thrusters at a lower power level to prevent damage from higher-than-expected temperatures. This additional time before the launch will allow the team to fully analyze the issue and ensure that it will not have any negative impacts on the mission. The team considers the discovery of the problem before launch to be a fortunate break.
The Psyche probe holds great significance as it is intended to provide insights into the formation and evolution of the solar system’s rocky planets. The asteroid Psyche, located in the debris belt between Mars and Jupiter, is one of the few metallic asteroids in this region. Scientists hope that studying this unique asteroid will shed light on the mysteries of the solar system’s creation.
The launch of the Psyche probe, which will take place at the Kennedy Space Center atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, is now targeted for 10:16 a.m. EDT on October 12. Following the launch, the spacecraft is expected to reach its target asteroid in the summer of 2029 after embarking on a 2.2-billion-mile voyage.