Launch of NASA’s SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket Psyche has been pushed back to 2023

NASA says its mission to asteroid 16 Psyche may not launch in 2022 after engineers were unable to verify the readiness of the spacecraft’s software.

What could amount to a few weeks or months late in the schedule will have a significant impact on the mission and lengthen its travel phase – the time between launch and arrival at Psyche Years. In addition to significantly increasing Psyche’s overall cost, the delay means another payload scheduled for launch in 2022 (or earlier) on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket has been pushed back to 2023.

Falcon Heavy itself was indefinitely delayed for years before its debut due to the constant shifting of SpaceX’s priorities and technology around it. Even after the first version of Falcon Heavy finally debuted in February 2018, SpaceX chose to immediately upgrade the rocket to the latest Falcon Block 5 variant, which again faced months of delays.

A little less than a year behind schedule, the first upgraded Falcon Heavy successfully completed the rocket’s first commercial mission – Arabsat 6A – in April 2019. The second Falcon Heavy Block 5 followed in June 2019 with a ride-along mission that doubled as a complex test flight that eventually allowed the US military to certify the rocket to launch its most prized satellites. Since then, the rocket has not launched once. As discussed on Teslarati, virtually every starship that has manifested on Falcon Heavy since the rocket’s first three launches has experienced major delays.

“For reasons unknown, virtually every short-term Falcon Heavy payload has deviated significantly from its original launch target. In recent weeks, the USSF-44 – which was due to launch as early as June 2022 after years of delays – “delayed indefinitely.USSF-52 was delayed from Q3 2020 and is now scheduled for launch in October 2022. ViaSat-3, once scheduled for launch on Falcon Heavy in 2020, is now NET September 2022. Jupiter-3, a record-breaking communications satellite that wasn’t really confirmed as a Falcon Heavy launch contract until a few weeks ago, is recently from 2021 and 2022 slipped to early 2023.” – May 26, 2022

Just a month later, USSF-44 is now NET December 2022, USSF-52 has reportedly slipped to April 2023, and Psyche has slipped to July 2023. At least for now, ViaSat-3, USSF-67 and USSF-44 are still targeting launches in 2022, but it will take a small miracle and the abrupt end of delay patterns for even one of these missions to land in the next 3 years -6 months does not slip into the year 2023.

As a result, SpaceX continues to amass an increasingly absurd fleet of unflown Falcon Heavy boosters that have been manufactured and tested for launch targets that are now years behind schedule. The company is now storing nine various Falcon Heavy side and center cores, one of which supported Falcon Heavy Block 5’s first two launches in 2019 and the other eight are qualified for flight but have never flown. The grounded fleet could soon grow to 10 boosters, compared to the 11 or fewer active Falcon 9 boosters SpaceX is likely to end the year with.

Due to the nature of the interplanetary launch windows and targets, Psyche will be a particularly painful delay for NASA. The August–October 2022 time window that NASA was recently targeting would have allowed the 2.6 tonne (~5700 lb) spacecraft to enter orbit around 16 Psyche in early 2026. According to NASA, the best possible backup launch window in 2023 will now delay orbit insertion to 2029 or even 2030, effectively doubling the Psyche spacecraft’s travel time. According to a 2022 decade-long survey, the travel phases of missions of a similar class have cost at least $30 million a year, meaning delaying Psyche’s launch from 2022 to 2023 could easily cost NASA an additional $100 million.

Launch of NASA’s SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket Psyche has been pushed back to 2023