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.

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich Launch Readiness Review, Televised Briefings on Tap Today

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich mission patch Today, launch and mission managers are holding the final major review, called the Launch Readiness Review, for the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich mission that will launch from Space Launch Complex 4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Launch is targeted for 9:17 a.m. PST (12:17 p.m. EST) on Saturday, Nov. 21.

Coming up today at 12:30 p.m. PST (3:30 p.m. EST) is a science briefing, live on NASA Television and the agency’s website. Participants are:

  • Karen St. Germain, director, NASA Earth Science Division, NASA HQ
  • Josh Willis, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich project scientist, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) (remote)
  • Craig Donlon, Sentinel-6 mission scientist, European Space Agency (remote)
  • Remko Scharroo, programme scientist for Sentinel-6 EUMESTAT (remote)
  • Deirdre Byrne, oceanographer, NOAA (remote)
  • Luanne Thompson, Walters Professor of Oceanography, University of Washington (remote)

A prelaunch news conference will be held today at 2 p.m. PST (5 p.m. EST), live on NASA Television and the agency’s website. Participants are:

  • Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for Science Mission Directorate, NASA HQ
  • Johann-Dietrich Worner, Director-General, European Space Agency
  • Pierrik Vuilleumier, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich project manager, European Space Agency
  • Parag Vaze, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich project manager, JPL
  • Tim Dunn, NASA Launch Director, Launch Services Program, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center
  • Julianna Scheiman, program manager, NASA Launch Services, SpaceX
  • Anthony Mastalir, commander, 30th Space Wing and Western Launch and Test Range
  • John Ott, weather officer, 30th Space Wing

NASA TV launch coverage will begin at 8:45 a.m. PST (11:45 a.m. EST) on Nov. 21.

Follow along with launch activities and get more information about the mission at: https://www.nasa.gov/sentinel-6.

Learn more about NASA’s Launch Services Program at: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/launchingrockets/index.html.

Stay connected with the mission on social media, and let people know you’re following it on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram using the hashtag #SeeingTheSeas and tag these accounts:

Twitter: @NASA@NASAEarth@NASA_JPL@NASASocial@ESA@ESA_EO@EU_Commission@NOAA@CNES@Eumetsat@CopernicusEU@defis_eu  @SpaceX@NASA_LSP@NASA36030thSpaceWing
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