NASA’s Psyche Mission Targeting Oct. 12 for Launch


Psyche spacecraft, shown close to a colorful asteroid.
Artist’s concept illustration depicting the spacecraft of NASA’s Psyche mission near the mission’s target, the metal asteroid Psyche.

NASA and SpaceX are now targeting Oct. 12 at 10:16 a.m. EDT for a Falcon Heavy launch of the Psyche mission from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center. The change allows the NASA team to complete verifications of the parameters used to control the Psyche spacecraft’s nitrogen cold gas thrusters. These thrusters are used to point the vehicle in support of science, power, thermal and other demands, such as spacecraft orientation and momentum management. The parameters were recently adjusted in response to updated, warmer temperature predictions for these thrusters. Operating the thrusters within temperature limits is essential to ensure the long-term health of the units.

The verification activities involve rerunning simulations and fine-tuning adjustments as required to the flight parameters and procedures.

NASA, SpaceX, and Psyche mission managers met today, Sept. 28, to conduct a Flight Readiness Review (FRR) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During the FRR, teams provided an update on the mission status, and certified the readiness to initiate final launch preparation activities including a static fire test on Sept. 29.

Psyche has launch opportunities every day between Oct. 12 and Oct. 25.

Psyche Spacecraft Headed for Xenon Fueling

NASA's Psyche spacecraft is crated and moved by truck to Astrotech Building 9 for xenon fueling.
Technicians moved NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, secured for transport, into the entrance of Building 9 at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 14, 2023. This move will allow a team of technicians and engineers to load the spacecraft with xenon gas. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

NASA’s Psyche spacecraft took another step closer on its upcoming journey to a metal-rich asteroid of the same name. On Aug. 14, a team of technicians and engineers moved the spacecraft from Building 1 to Building 9 at Astrotech Space Operations facility near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Inside Building 9, technicians will load about one metric ton of xenon gas into seven 22-gallon tanks inside the spacecraft.

Psyche’s solar electric propulsion will use large solar arrays to convert sunlight into electricity, which will power four Hall thrusters. The thrusters will use electric and magnetic fields to accelerate and expel charged xenon particles, or ions, to create thrust and propel the spacecraft to its destination after launch. The thrusters will operate one at a time and will have a blue glow from the xenon.

Psyche is targeted to launch Oct. 5 atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy. After launch, Psyche is set to arrive at the asteroid in July 2029, where it will spend 26 months gathering observations that will help scientists learn more about planetary formation.

In addition to its primary mission, Psyche has NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) technology demonstration onboard the spacecraft. DSOC will be the agency’s first demonstration of optical communication beyond the Moon. DSOC will send test data to and from Earth using an invisible near-infrared laser, which has much higher bandwidth than radio wave systems currently used on spacecraft.

Solar Arrays Successfully Installed on NASA’s Psyche Spacecraft

Solar arrays for NASA’s Psyche spacecraft near Kennedy Space Center in Florida
Technicians begin to retract one of the two solar arrays attached to NASA’s Psyche spacecraft. This photo was taken on July 25 inside the Astrotech Space Operations facility near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA’s Psyche spacecraft has completed another milestone. Solar arrays are now ready to power the spacecraft on a 2.5-billion-mile (4-billion-kilometer) journey to a metal-rich asteroid to help us learn more about planet formation. A team of engineers and technicians received, prepared, and installed the solar arrays on the spacecraft at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Learn more about the solar arrays here:

Psyche Mission Update

This illustration, updated in April 2022, depicts NASA’s Psyche spacecraft. The Psyche mission will explore a metal-rich asteroid of the same name that lies in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The spacecraft will orbit the asteroid – also shown in this illustration – for nearly two years to investigate its composition. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

NASA’s Psyche mission team continues to assess ongoing issues with the spacecraft’s flight software. The team is evaluating its ability to meet a schedule to launch in 2022 – the current launch period is Sept. 20 to Oct. 11. If it is determined that launch in 2022 is not possible, a full range of actions for how to proceed will be considered.

NASA’s Psyche Mission Launch Update

NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is nearing the final stages of preparations for launch, and the mission team is working to confirm that all hardware and software systems are operating correctly. An issue is preventing confirmation that the software controlling the spacecraft is functioning as planned. The team is working to identify and correct the issue. To allow more time for this work, the launch period is being updated to no earlier than Sept. 20, 2022, pending range availability.

NASA’s Psyche Spacecraft Arrives at Kennedy

NASA's Psyche spacecraft arrives at Kennedy Space Center's Launch and Landing Facility in Florida.
Preparations are underway to offload NASA’s Psyche spacecraft from the C-17 aircraft it arrived aboard at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch and Landing Facility in Florida on April 29, 2022. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The Psyche spacecraft completed its journey from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. First, it traveled to March Air Reserve Base, about 55 miles southeast of JPL, before flying cross-country aboard a C-17 aircraft to the Launch and Landing Facility (formerly the Shuttle Landing Facility) where crews offloaded the spacecraft. Over the next three months, the spacecraft will undergo additional preparations before launching aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on Aug. 1.

The Psyche spacecraft will use solar-electric propulsion to travel approximately 1.5 billion miles (2.4 billion kilometers) to rendezvous with its namesake asteroid in 2026. This will make it the first spacecraft to use Hall-effect thrusters beyond the orbit of the Moon. This thruster technology traps electrons in a magnetic field and uses them to ionize onboard propellant, expending much less propellant than equivalent chemical rockets. Psyche also carries three scientific instruments: an imager, magnetometer, and a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer.

The unique, metal-rich Psyche asteroid may be part of the core of a planetesimal, a building block of rocky planets in our solar system. Learning more about the asteroid could tell us more about how our own planet formed and help answer fundamental questions about Earth’s own metal core and the formation of our solar system.

The launch of Psyche will include two secondary payloads, NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) technical demonstration, which is attached to the spacecraft as a separate experiment and the Janus spacecraft. DSOC will perform the agency’s first demonstration of optical communications beyond the Earth-Moon system, and will use lasers to send data at a higher rate than typical spacecraft radio communications. Janus is two small spacecraft that will study two different binary asteroids (two asteroids that orbit each other) to understand the formation and evolution of these objects.

The Psyche mission is led by Arizona State University. JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, is responsible for mission’s overall management, system engineering, integration and testing, and mission operations. Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, California, provided the high-power solar electric propulsion spacecraft chassis. NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), based at Kennedy, is managing the launch. Psyche will be the 14th mission in the agency’s Discovery program and LSP’s 100th primary mission. Numerous international, university, and commercial partners are part of the Psyche team.

For more information check out the mission website.