NASA has said its mission to asteroid 16 Psyche can no longer be launched in 2022 after engineers were unable to verify the readiness of the spacecraft’s software.
What could be a few weeks or months late will have major ramifications for the mission, extending its cruise phase – the time between launch and arrival at Psyche – from years. As well as dramatically increasing the overall cost of Psyche, the delay means another payload slated for launch on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket in 2022 (or sooner) has slipped to 2023.
For years before its debut, Falcon Heavy itself was delayed indefinitely as SpaceX’s priorities and technology constantly shifted around it. Even after the first version of Falcon Heavy launched in February 2018, SpaceX opted to immediately upgrade the rocket to use the latest Falcon Block 5 variant, which again experienced months of delays.
Just under a year late, the first upgraded Falcon Heavy successfully completed the rocket’s first commercial mission – Arabsat 6A – in April 2019. The second Falcon Heavy Block 5 followed suit in June 2019 with a carpool mission that also served as a complex test. flight that finally allowed the US military to certify the rocket to launch its most valuable satellites. The rocket has not been launched once since. As previously reported on Teslarati, virtually all spacecraft manifested on Falcon Heavy since the rocket’s first three launches have experienced significant delays.
“For unknown reasons, virtually all near-term Falcon Heavy payloads have strayed significantly from their original launch target. Over the past few weeks, the USSF-44 – slated to launch as soon as June 2022 after years of delay – has been “delayed indefinitely.Delayed from Q3 2020, USSF-52 launch is now scheduled for October 2022. ViaSat-3, once supposed to launch on Falcon Heavy in 2020, is now NET September 2022. Jupiter-3, a communications satellite record that was Not yet a few weeks ago confirmed to be a Falcon Heavy launch contract, it recently moved from 2021 and 2022 to early 2023.”
Teslarati.com – May 26, 2022
Just a month later, USSF-44 is now NET December 2022, USSF-52 would have slipped until April 2023, and Psyche would have slipped until July 2023. At least for now, ViaSat-3 , USSF-67 and USSF-44 are still aiming for 2022 launches, but it will take a small miracle and the abrupt end of the delay models for even one of these missions to avoid slipping into 2023 over the next 3-6 months. .
As a result, SpaceX continues to amass an increasingly absurd fleet of unflown Falcon Heavy boosters that have been manufactured and tested for launch targets that are now years behind schedule. The company now stores new various Falcon Heavy side and center cores, one of which supported the first two Falcon Heavy Block 5 launches in 2019 and the other eight are flight qualified but have never flown. The ground fleet could soon reach 10 boosters, compared to the 11 or fewer active Falcon 9 boosters that SpaceX will likely end the year with.
Due to the nature of interplanetary launch windows and destinations, Psyche will be a particularly painful delay for NASA. The August-October 2022 window that NASA recently targeted would have allowed the 2.6-tonne (~5,700 lb) spacecraft to enter orbit around 16 Psyche in early 2026. According to NASA, the best window of possible backup launch in 2023 will now delay orbital insertion to 2029 or even 2030, doubling the cruise time of the Psyche spacecraft. According to a 2022 decadal survey, the cruise phases of missions of a similar class cost at least $30 million per year, which means delaying the launch of Psyche from 2022 to 2023 could easily cost $100 million. additional to NASA.