NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has budget, staffing, and poor communications problems, forcing the space agency to delay an expected mission to Venus.
During the annual meeting of Venus Exploration Analysis Group On Monday, Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, called the mission delay “the most painful thing I’ve probably had to do in my entire life.” However, Gillies said that in trying to meet the challenges highlighted by an independent review board, “there have been no good options.”
NASA recently subscriber Results of the independent review board formed together The fate of Psyche’s mission was decided. The mission had missed its initial launch window in August 2022 due to development delays, but is now targeting its October 2023 launch date to study a metal-rich asteroid. However, the review board’s report revealed problems that went beyond the problems that led to breath delay.
The independent review board noted that there were not enough staff working at Psyche to allow it to be completed on time, as well as connectivity issues and staff working remotely due to the covid-19 pandemic. The Board also noted an unprecedented workload and imbalance between the workload and resources available at JPL.
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As a result of these issues, NASA decided to delay the launch of its VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, Spectroscopy) for at least three years. “This is a bitter and bitter blow to Team Veritas in particular, and the Venus community more broadly,” planetary scientist Paul Byrne told Gizmodo in an email. “I am very frustrated.”
VERITAS was originally scheduled to launch in 2027 on a mission to map the surface of Venus and study its atmosphere. Postponing it until 2031 is intended to allow employees at Veritas to contribute to the missions that are in full swing in its development and to free up additional resources for the Psyche mission.
Gleese also cited the impact of COVID-19 and the ongoing inflation crisis, saying that NASA had not received any additional funding to offset the financial impact in the past two years. “I just wanted to note that we’re on a lower budget at the moment than we expected,” Gilles said.
She added, “So every project that gets ready to start building hardware says we need to get the money in our budgets that year. We need it now so we can go ahead and start these early purchases. And so we’re trying to accommodate that as well.”
Members of the Venus science community were frustrated with the decision, particularly given how long they had to wait for a NASA mission to Advance Venus Science. NASA’s last mission to Venus, Magellan, reached the planet in 1989 and concluded scientific operations in 1994. Since then, NASA has not sent a specialized Venus mission. But much to the delight of scientists who study Venus, NASA green light for two missions from Venusand VERITAS and DAVINCI in June of last year. DAVINCI is still on track to launch in 2029, but Veritas has not been so lucky.
“The three-year delay isn’t much in NASA’s frequency chart for the Venus missions, but the data that will return VERITAS is sorely needed — so having to wait longer, especially through no fault of the VERITAS team — seems very unfair,” Byrne said.
VERITAS team members who attended the meeting expressed their frustration at having to take on the brunt of budget and workforce issues when they don’t go over budget or have any issues with staff. “I understand that you are not responsible for the things that are to be evaluated, it is out of your control,” Gilles said while addressing a member of Team Veritas. “I can commit to you and your team by being transparent and working with you.”
The science team at VERITAS will be reassigned to other missions before resuming work on the mission to Venus at a later time. “We will provide a certain level of support throughout the downtime for the science team to continue meeting, keep talking, and keep thinking about How do we move forward in the 2024 timeframe,” said Gleese.
There will also be an assessment of JPL’s progress toward solving the problems mentioned in the report, as well as progress on two upcoming missions, NASA’s Europa Clipper and NISAR, scheduled for launch in 2024.” Their launch, the financial implications of that would be, I’d go so far as to say, near-disastrous,” said Glaese.
The Psyche mission was designed to detect the origin of an asteroid 140 miles (226 kilometers) wide, but its delay has already revealed more than NASA expected. “I’ve heard there are serious staffing issues at JPL, but that’s true in many places because of the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues,” Byrne said. “But I had no idea how bad things were.”
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