Fortunately for NASA's Psyche asteroid probe, a problem with its thrusters was identified and promptly resolved.

Fortunately for NASA’s Psyche asteroid probe, a problem with its thrusters was identified and promptly resolved.

Merely 14 days prior to its scheduled launch, engineers stumbled upon a significant issue with the thrusters in NASA’s Psyche asteroid probe. Luckily, the solution was not too complicated and the launch of the $1.2 billion mission was only delayed by a week.

On Saturday, Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton revealed that we stumbled upon the discovery that the subcontractor’s information on the cold gas thrusters was inaccurate, leading us to adjust our mission’s operational settings.

Falling is never enjoyable and often elicits a feeling of panic. However, we are fortunate when we avoid it.

An artist’s impression of the Psyche probe, its solar arrays extended, in orbit around its quarry of the same name, one of only a handful of metallic asteroids yet discovered. It may be core-like material from a planetary building block that was ripped apart in the distant past when two larger bodies collided NASA

The Kennedy Space Center will send off a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket at 10:16 a.m. EDT on Oct. 12. If successful, the spacecraft will arrive at its destination in the summer of 2029 after traveling 2.2 billion miles, beginning two years of up-close observations.

According to Spaceflight Now, there has been a delay of one week for the flight. NASA has confirmed that the launch date has been moved to October 12th in order to ensure that the parameters controlling the Psyche spacecraft’s nitrogen cold gas thrusters are properly verified.

The blog post stated that the operating parameters for the thrusters would be altered due to revised predictions of higher temperatures. No further information was given.


The Psyche spacecraft was undergoing final preparations for its launch in a clean room located near the Kennedy Space Center. William Harwood/CBS News

During a presentation at the Sands Space History Center near the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Saturday, Elkins-Tanton addressed the issue. According to her, the Psyche mission was fortunate to have found and addressed the thruster problem before its scheduled launch, even if it resulted in a delay.

“According to Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director Laurie Leshin, Elkins-Tanton stated that a triumphant mission involves avoiding 1,000 obstacles, while an unsuccessful one only manages to avoid 999.”

“Fortunately, our amazing team discovered and resolved this issue before our launch. I am extremely grateful for their efforts. It’s a great story.”

The problem was identified during pre-flight examinations which revealed that the settings utilized to control the thrusters were inaccurate. It was determined that operating at 80 percent power could result in higher temperatures than anticipated, potentially causing harm.

Upon further investigation, it was determined that the issue could be resolved without making any modifications to the hardware or software. Instead, the probe’s flight computer simply needed an updated set of parameters, directing it to use a lower level of power when firing the thrusters. This may result in longer maneuver times, but it will not impact the success of the mission.

After being released from the rocket, Elkins-Tanton stated that one of our initial tasks is to rotate towards Earth once the solar arrays are extended. This rotation is achieved by activating our 12 cold gas thrusters.

She explained that in order to maintain a low temperature, we must operate at a 30% duty cycle instead. The additional week is necessary to ensure that this does not cause any further issues that would require our attention.

When asked about the potential outcome if Psyche had been launched in its current state, Elkins-Tanton stated that the elevated temperatures would likely cause harm to the thruster. This could have significantly affected the mission. Fortunately, there are 12 thrusters available.

Before launching, the team was able to identify the issue and carefully examine it to gain a thorough understanding of all aspects, including the nearby thermal sensors and their connection to the temperature in the thruster and other components.

“If this occurred during the initial checkout process, there would be a lot on people’s minds, making it much more difficult to comprehend it to this degree. Therefore, the delay is actually beneficial.”

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