CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The launch of NASA’s asteroid Psyche mission has been postponed until 10:19 a.m. EDT (1419 GMT) on Friday (October 13), due to stormy weather approaching the Gulf of Mexico.
Psyche, NASA’s probe exploring a metallic asteroid of the same name, was scheduled to launch Thursday morning (October 12) on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Pad 39A here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. However, during the pre-launch press conference on Wednesday (October 11), the bleak forecast for the following morning left only a 20% chance of favorable weather conditions.
With storms rolling in on Wednesday night, the decision was made to abandon the Thursday launch attempt to take advantage of better weather expected in the Friday and Saturday (October 14) launch windows.
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Arlena Moses, a weather officer for the US Space Force, attended the news conference on Wednesday and explained the growing concerns.
“One of the key monitoring elements has now shifted from just storms in the area to take-off winds,” Musa said. “Behind this warm front and especially with the low pressure area moving toward us, we expect winds to blow quite quickly from the south and southwest. We could see 20 to 25 miles per hour. [32 to 40 kph]”There will likely be stronger gusts with that as well.”
These conditions were expected to continue during the launch period on Thursday, prompting the mission teams to decide Wednesday evening to postpone until Friday.
“For our first backup window, Friday morning, there is a 50% chance of launch conditions, with our concerns continuing to be linked to storms in the region, as we have anvil clouds, and some thick clouds, which are multi-layered clouds, in addition to cumulonimbus clouds,” Moussa explained during the conference. Journalist: “Associated with storms.”
“Looking at Saturday morning, a third backup window, it’s still about the same probability, about a 50% chance of a run, and fairly similar conditions here, where there might be some storms around, but we expect most of the storms to be after that,” she added. “Our morning launch window.”
The decision to abandon the Thursday window may also have something to do with the characteristics of the Psyche launch vehicle. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy has limited launch recycle attempts, meaning the rocket can be fully fueled for launch up to two times before it needs enough maintenance to delay the launch by more than two days.
Tim Dunn, senior launch manager for NASA’s Launch Services Program, addressed some of the resource constraints during a press conference on Wednesday. “The limitations on recycling attempts are due to the huge amount of condensed LOX (liquid oxygen) that we use with the Falcon Heavy configuration,” he explained. After a second refueling attempt, “we would need about five days to replenish the LOX in the ground field and return it to a dissipative state,” Dunn said.
So NASA is now aiming for a 50% “launch” window on Friday, with a similar chance of a coin toss on Saturday under favorable launch conditions as a backup. The new plan allows for a greater probability of success should the first launch attempt approach T-0 on the countdown.
Psyche’s release window extends until October 25th. After launching from Earth, the probe will head towards the asteroid Psyche, which is located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Astronomers believe the strange metallic object may be the exposed core of a protoplanet; Psyche’s mission will help them take action.
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