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.
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.