Board Begins Review of NASA’s Psyche Mission

On July 19, Psyche’s independent review board met for the first time.

The focus is on understanding technical issues that led to the delay, how the risk of delay was or was not understood and communicated within the project, as well as to those charged with oversight of the mission at JPL in a timely manner, and the work required to ensure that Psyche is ready for a potential future opportunity.

The board’s objectives are to:

  • Study any and all issues that contributed to the launch delay, including the lack of visibility of the problems to management, standing review board, technical authorities, etc. or through standard life cycle reviews.
  • Identify when the problems began arising, why there was a lack of visibility, and determine if there were missed opportunities to take action earlier to possibly prevent the launch delay or prevent shipping to KSC and preparations for launch.
  • Identify and raise other issues that might be crucial for mission success not yet recognized by the team.
  • Identify specific corrective actions to prevent future reoccurrence of identified issues both in the Psyche replan and in other missions.
  • Identify any additional technical work the board believes is required to be completed for launch readiness.
  • Identify lessons learned associated with the acquisition strategy of a commercial bus for future NASA deep space missions.

The board is expected to brief their findings to NASA and JPL leadership in late September.

NASA Begins Psyche Mission Review

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have commissioned an independent review to examine project and institutional issues that led to the Psyche mission missing its planned 2022 launch opportunity, and to review the mission’s path forward. The 15-member review board will be chaired by retired NASA official Tom Young and is slated to begin work on July 19. The review will study factors of workforce environment, culture, communication, schedule, and both technical and programmatic risks. Results of this study will help inform a continuation/ termination review for the mission, as well as provide NASA and JPL with actionable information to reduce risk for other missions. The board is expected to brief their findings to NASA and JPL leadership in late September.

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.