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Delay in Psyche launch wrecks smallsat asteroid mission

The two month delay in the launch of NASA’s Psyche asteroid mission because of software issues has apparently wrecked a smallsat asteroid mission that was to launch as a secondary payload on the Falcon Heavy rocket.

Janus, a NASA smallsat mission selected in 2019, will launch two identical spacecraft as secondary payloads on the Falcon Heavy rocket whose primary payload is Psyche. After a series of Earth flybys, each Janus spacecraft was to fly by different binary asteroids, designated 1996 FG3 and 1991 VH.

However, the mission’s principal investigator said June 8 that mission plan is no longer possible. Speaking at a meeting of NASA’s Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG), Dan Scheeres of the University of Colorado noted that mission plan assumed Psyche launched in August of this year as previously planned. NASA announced May 23 that the mission’s launch had been delayed to no earlier than Sept. 20 to provide more time for testing the spacecraft’s software.

With the revised launch date, he said it’s no longer possible for the spacecraft to perform those Earth flybys with the existing spacecraft design. “Those flybys were essential for setting up our flybys of our target binaries, 1991 VH and 1996 FG3,” he said.

The Janus team are right now scrambling to see if they can find other asteroids the spacecraft can reach, based on the new launch date. Their work however is badly hampered by the uncertainty of that date, which could still change for many reasons.

The heart of the problem, as Scheeres notes, is its status as a secondary payload.

“We have no ability to influence the launch dates or the targeting of the launch vehicle, and that arises from our status as a rideshare,” he said.

The article also describes two other NASA interplanetary smallsat missions that have been badly hindered because of their status as secondary payloads. All three stories strongly suggest that in the future it will make much more sense to put such missions on its own rocket, as the primary payload. This is what NASA did with its CAPSTONE smallsat mission to the Moon, which will launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket sometime before the end of the month.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


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Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “All three stories strongly suggest that in the future it will make much more sense to put such missions on its own rocket, as the primary payload. This is what NASA did with its CAPSTONE smallsat mission to the Moon, which will launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket sometime before the end of the month.

    Not only is this the beauty of having multiple launch vehicles to choose from, it is the beauty of the flexibility of the commercial space providers. The launch price can be low enough for a secondary payload to fly as the primary, and this gives the payload the freedom to choose its orbit to suit its own needs and not to be limited by the other (primary) payload’s needs.

    Go commercial! Go freedom!

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