NASA Stashes Twin Probes After Cancelling $US50 Million Asteroid Mission

NASA Stashes Twin Probes After Cancelling $US50 Million Asteroid Mission

NASA is going to store a pair of spacecraft at a facility, awaiting a second chance to go to space should the agency find a new purpose for them.

Following months of uncertainty, NASA announced that it was officially calling off the Janus mission to study two separate binary asteroid systems. Janus’ twin spacecraft are being prepared for “long-term storage” awaiting future funding that could possibly utilize the spacecraft for another mission.

The mission, selected as part of the agency’s Small, Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration, or SIMPLEx, program, cost the space agency around $50 million to develop. The program “provides opportunities for low-cost, high risk science missions to ride-share with selected primary missions,” NASA wrote in its statement.

“We are disappointed with this outcome, of course, but also understand that the SIMPLEx program has a high risk posture relative to launch vehicles,” Daniel Scheeres, the principal investigator of the project and an astronomer at the University of Colorado, told Gizmodo in an email.

Janus was originally scheduled for launch in August 2022, hitching a ride to space with the Psyche mission to explore a metal-rich asteroid. An unfortunate software glitch delayed Psyche’s launch two months before its liftoff, thereby affecting its ride-along missions.

Psyche’s delay triggered a review of operations at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which uncovered a host of issues related to staffing. NASA responded to the board’s recommendations and put Psyche back on track; the mission is now set for launch in October. That launch window, however, cannot deliver the two spacecraft to the mission’s original targets. As a result, Janus was taken off the launch manifest.

“The Janus program will be concluded with the delivery of the spacecraft to NASA for storage,” Scheeres said. “However, we remain interested in using these [spacecraft] for future scientific missions and await guidance from NASA on how this can be realized.”

As a result of the issues at JPL, NASA also delayed the launch of its VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) probe indefinitely. The fate of that mission still hangs in the balance even as Psyche gears up for its new launch window, leaving two asteroid probes behind.

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