The NASA JPL mission to Asteroid 16 Psyche got thumbs up from an independent review board on May 30, 2023, and it is now on the right way to be launched on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy in October 2023.
#MissionToPsyche is on track for launch in October 2023!— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) June 5, 2023
An independent review board found JPL’s response to address factors contributing to the mission’s 2022 launch delay has been "world class." https://t.co/XITMxX3vVG
Previously, the launch was expected in 2022, with a three-month window from August to October, and was put on hold on June 24, 2022, for several reasons: technical delays with the flight software testbed, the impact of COVID-19, project team understaffed, communication and stakeholder management problems, just to name a few.
Therefore, NASA and JPL appointed an independent review board, chaired by retired NASA official Tom Young, to assess the root causes of the delay and provide all possible options to move forward.
Review Board report: a lot of challenges and room for improvement
Looking at the final Review Board report, we note some noteworthy findings.
To stay within the new launch window in 2023, the first important suggestion was to increase the staff of the project team, by adding experienced engineers at all levels. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the already undersized personnel and the new addition was necessary to support the re-plan.
Additionally, other major improvements were found in the relationship between JPL and Maxar Technologies, the private company responsible for the construction of the spacecraft chassis and the Hall thrusters, the main components of Psyche solar electric propulsion system.
In particular, the massive problem with the flight software testbed, a mix of hardware and software components provided by Maxar and JPL, pointed out the poor integration between the two teams. As a result, the review board determined that the interactions, the interfaces, and also the contract structure needed to be significantly enhanced.
Moreover, the communication with JPL leadership, and the Standing Review Board (SBR) process were identified as an additional focus, providing a broad range of recommendations for improving them.
NASA and JPL have taken strong and effective measures on each weakness identified in the board’s first evaluation, to strengthen and re-plan the mission.
The outstanding work finally allowed the independent committee to conclude that “the October 2023 LRD (Launch Readiness Date) is credible and the overall probability of mission success is high” (page 7 of the final report).
Work-to-go for launch: it’s not yet over!
Additionally, the Review Board identified also the significant steps to move forward, from the completion of Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) to the operational readiness and the pre-launch review completion.
Will they be able to meet the new deadline? The independent committee is optimistic and the entire Mission to Psyche team is working tirelessly to make this a reality.
Many scientists and mission supporters hope to see the spacecraft instruments (the Multispectral Imager, the Gamma-ray, and Neutron Spectrometer, and the powerful Magnetometer) probe this unique metal world by August 2029, according to the current mission plan.