As NASA Psyche mission declares delay, no cargo on SpaceX Falcon Heavy is safe

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Following the discovery of a software problem by spacecraft engineers during preflight processing, the first dedicated Falcon Heavy launch for NASA scheduled to take place by SpaceX has been pushed back by seven weeks. NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, which is named for the unusual metallic asteroid it is intended to study, arrived safely at the launch facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in late April after completing its voyage from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to those facilities.

Since the middle of 2019, this cargo is the only one that has been successfully delivered by a Falcon Heavy rocket to the Kennedy Space Center. At the time of its arrival, it was not quite known when exactly Falcon Heavy would ultimately break its three-year launch hiatus or what payload or payloads would be aboard the rocket for the event itself.

After a period of three weeks, none of these issues has been clarified, but the reasons for this change. Spaceflight Now reported on May 23 that it had received a written statement from NASA confirming that the launch of Psyche had been delayed from August 1st, 2022 to no earlier than (NET) September 20th “after ground teams discovered an issue during software testing on the spacecraft.” This news was shared after Spaceflight Now had received the statement.

After the spacecraft arrived at a payload processing facility at the Kennedy Space Center, the crews have spent the last several weeks inspecting Psyche in great detail to ensure that it is in perfect condition and that it survived the voyage without any problems. Indeterminately later, the spacecraft’s computers would have needed to be powered up so that engineers could carry out a comprehensive battery of diagnostic checks. There’s also the possibility that an unfinished version of Psyche’s flight software was being evaluated by an outside party before it was installed for good.

In either case, it seems that something went wrong. “a problem is blocking confirmation that the software controlling the spacecraft is operating as expected,” is all that NASA is prepared to disclose for the time being. Even while it seems to be centered on software, such a vague remark does not rule out the potential of a hardware issue. This might assist in better explaining why NASA and the spacecraft team quickly decided to delay the launch of Psyche by more than seven weeks.

Nearly every payload that was scheduled to be launched by the Falcon Heavy in the foreseeable future has seen a considerable slide from its intended launch destination for unclear reasons. The United States Space Force (USSF) mission 44, which was supposed to launch as early as June 2022 after years of delays, was “delayed indefinitely” in recent weeks. The launch of USSF-52 has been pushed back from the third quarter of 2020 to the fall of 2022. The launch of ViaSat-3, which was originally scheduled to take place aboard Falcon Heavy in 2020, has been pushed back to NET September 2022. Recently, the launch date for Jupiter-3, a record-breaking communications satellite whose status as a Falcon Heavy launch contract wasn’t officially verified until a few weeks ago, has been pushed back to early 2023 from the range of 2021 and 2022.


It seems that only USSF-67, which hasn’t had its official launch goal revised in more than a year, is still on pace to launch anywhere within the launch window it was given originally (H2 2022). It would be pretty exceptional if in November 2022 a Falcon Heavy rocket is able to lift off without any more delays carrying the spacecraft. As a result of the delay that occurred on September 20th, it is now possible that the Psyche mission may interfere with Falcon Heavy’s ViaSat-3 mission, which is required to utilize the same launch pad. ViaSat-3 was always going to slide into the fourth quarter, but the scene shows how frustrating it must be for SpaceX to schedule launches for nearly half a dozen payloads that are chronically delayed.

While this is going on, SpaceX has to find a place to store and maintain a total of nine separate Falcon Heavy rockets while they are forced to continue waiting for their lengthy assignments. There are now 12 boosters in SpaceX’s total fleet of operating Falcon 9s, which includes one booster from their Falcon Heavy rocket that is temporarily functioning as a Falcon 9. This indicates that more than forty percent of all Falcon boosters are currently serving as dead weight.

Source: Teslarati

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