Engineers and technicians at Cape Canaveral are preparing the Psyche spacecraft for liftoff, scheduled for October 5.
With less than 100 days before the October 5 launch, NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is undergoing final preparations at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Teams of engineers and technicians are working around the clock to make sure the orbiter is ready to travel 2.5 billion miles (4 billion kilometers) to a metal-rich asteroid that may tell us more about of planetary cores and how planets form.
The mission team recently completed a comprehensive test campaign of the flight software and installed it on the spacecraft, clearing the obstacle that prevented Psyche from making the original launch date of 2022.
“The team and I are now counting down the days to launch,” said Henry Stone, Psyche’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Our focus has shifted to safely completing the final mechanical shutdown of the spacecraft and preparing the team for operations. The team has been conducting several training activities to ensure we are ready and prepared. It has been a very busy time, but everyone is very excited and looking forward to the launch.”
Psyche is scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy (the first interplanetary launch for such a rocket) from Space Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center at 10:38 am EDT (7:38 am PDT) on October 5, with additional opportunities scheduled through October 25. After escaping Earth’s gravity, the Psyche spacecraft will use solar electric propulsion to complete its six-year journey to the asteroid Psyche.
Measuring about 173 miles (279 kilometers) across at its widest point, asteroid Psyche presents a unique opportunity to explore a metal-rich body that could be part of the core of a planetesimal, the building block of an early planet. Once the spacecraft reaches Psyche in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, it will spend at least 26 months orbiting the asteroid, gathering images and other data that will tell scientists a more about its history and what it is made of.
But first, a team of 30 or so engineers and technicians will complete the assembly, testing, and launch operations phase of the mission. The team recently completed several weeks of functional testing of science instruments as well as spacecraft hardware and software.
After removing the final cables surrounding the hardware for testing, they will “close” the spacecraft by reinstalling some of the exterior panels that were removed for access and complete the thermal blanketing. Later in July, they will integrate and test the deployment of several solar arrays. Then, in mid-August, a crew will begin slowly loading all 2,392 pounds (1,085 kilograms) of propellant—the neutral gas xenon—into the spacecraft over several weeks.
Luis Dominguez, the systems and electrical lead for assembly, test, and launch operations, is usually based at JPL but has been working full-time at the Cape since early June. “We’re moving forward,” he said, “and we’re confident that once we’re on the pad, we’ll be ready to hit the button. For everyone, we’re excited to launch this bird.”
Provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Citation: NASA’s Psyche mission enters home before launch (2023, July 18) retrieved 18 July 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07-nasa-psyche-mission-home.html
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