Psyche at KSC
NASA's Psyche spacecraft, which recently arrived at the Kennedy Space Center to begin launch preparations, will now launch no earlier than Sept. 20, a delay of more than a month and a half. Credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

LONG BEACH, Calif. — The launch of a NASA mission to the asteroid Psyche has been delayed at least a month and a half because of a problem with the spacecraft’s software, the agency confirmed May 23.

In a brief statement to SpaceNews, NASA said it has delayed the launch of the Psyche spacecraft, previously scheduled for Aug. 1, until no earlier than Sept. 20 to address the problem. The delay was first reported by Spaceflight Now.

“An issue is preventing confirmation that the software controlling the spacecraft is functioning as planned. The team is working to identify and correct the issue,” the agency said in a statement, but did not elaborate on the specific issue or how it is being corrected. NASA did not immediately respond to follow-up questions, including the duration of the launch window.

NASA has not yet formally announced the slip in the launch. The website for the mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory still lists an Aug. 1 launch for the mission as of early May 24. The last agency update on the mission, published May 2, discussed the spacecraft’s shipment from JPL to the Kennedy Space Center to begin preparations for its launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy.

“Not yet public, we’re working on it,” tweeted Lindy Elkins-Tanton, principal investigator for the mission at Arizona State University, in response to a question May 23 about the delay and the mission’s launch window.

NASA selected Psyche in January 2017 as one of two Discovery-class planetary science missions, along with the Lucy mission to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. At the time of selection, Psyche was scheduled to launch in 2023 and arrive at the main belt asteroid Psyche in 2030. However, NASA and the project agreed to move up the launch one year, revising its trajectory to allow it to arrive at Psyche in 2026 after a Mars flyby in 2023.

Psyche the spacecraft will orbit Psyche the asteroid for at least 21 months, studying the large, metallic asteroid that may be the remnant of a protoplanetary core. The spacecraft will also test a payload called Deep Space Optical Communication that uses lasers to provide high-bandwidth communications with Earth.

At the mission’s Key Decision Point C review in 2019, NASA estimated a total lifecycle cost of $996.4 million for Psyche. A Government Accountability Office report a year ago on cost and schedule performance of NASA programs stated that the mission’s estimated cost had since declined slightly, to $957.6 million, reflecting the cost of the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle NASA selected for the mission in 2020.

JPL is responsible for overall management of Psyche, including engineering, integration and testing. Maxar built the spacecraft bus.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...