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NASA delays Venus mission due to problems at JPL

Artistic depiction of the VERITAS Venus mission.

Artistic depiction of the VERITAS Venus mission.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is struggling with budget, staffing and poor communications issues, forcing the space agency to delay its long-awaited mission to Venus.

During the annual meeting Venus Exploration Analysis Group On Monday, NASA planetary science director Laurie Gleizes called the mission delay “the most painful thing I’ve ever had to do, probably in my entire life.” However, Gleizes said there were “no good options” when trying to address the issues noted by the independent review board.

NASA recently general the results of the work of an independent monitoring commission established to decide the fate of the Psyche mission. The mission missed its original August 2022 launch window due to development delays, but is now targeting an October 2023 launch date to study the metal-rich asteroid. However, a report compiled by the control board revealed problems far beyond those that led to psyche retention.

Psyche spaceship illustration.

An illustration of the Psyche mission scheduled to launch in 2023.
Illustration: NASA

An independent review board noted that there were not enough employees working on Psyche to complete it on time, in addition to communication issues and employees working remotely due to the covid-19 pandemic. The Board also noted the unprecedented workload and imbalance between workload and available resources at JPL.

Because of these problems, NASA decided to delay the launch of its VERITAS (Emissivity of Venus, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy) for at least three years. “This is a bitter, bitter blow to the VERITAS team in particular and the Venus community in general,” planetary scientist Paul Byrne told Gizmodo in an email. “I am extremely disappointed.”

VERITAS was originally scheduled to launch in 2027 on a mission to map the surface of Venus and study its atmosphere. Its delay to 2031 is intended to allow staff working on VERITAS to contribute to missions that are further in development and free up additional resources for the Psyche mission.

Gleizes also cited the impact of covid-19 and the ongoing inflationary crisis, saying that NASA has not received any additional funding to offset the financial impact of the past two years. “I just wanted to point out that we are now spending a smaller budget than we expected,” Gleizes said.

To which she added, “And that’s why every single project that’s getting ready to start producing equipment says we need to get the money that’s in our budget this year. We need it now so we can start those early purchases. And so we’re trying to adapt to that as well.”

Members of the Venusian science community were disappointed with the decision, especially considering how long they had to wait for a NASA mission to advance science on Venus. NASA’s last mission to Venus, Magellan, arrived on the planet in 1989 and completed science operations in 1994. Since then, NASA has not sent a dedicated mission to Venus. But much to the delight of scientists studying Venus, NASA greenlights two Venus missions, VERITAS and DAVINCI last June. DAVINCI is still on track to launch in 2029, but VERITAS is less fortunate.

“A delay of three years is not much in terms of the frequency of NASA missions to Venus, but the data that VERITAS will be returning is desperately needed, so waiting even longer, especially through no fault of the VERITAS team, seems very unfair. Byrne said.

Members of the VERITAS team present at the meeting expressed dissatisfaction with having to bear the brunt of budgetary and staffing issues when they were not over budget or having staffing issues. “I understand that you are not responsible for what will be assessed, it is out of your control,” Gleize said, referring to a member of the VERITAS team. “I can make a commitment to you and your team to be transparent and work with you.”

The VERITAS science team will be transferred to other missions before they resume work on the Venus mission at a later date. “We are going to provide some level of support throughout the break so that the science team continues to meet, to continue to talk, to continue to think about how we will move forward in 2024,” Gleizes said.

It will also evaluate the progress made at JPL in addressing the issues noted in the report, as well as the progress made on NASA’s two upcoming Europa Clipper and NISAR missions scheduled to launch in 2024. are sufficiently staffed and they miss their launch window, the financial consequences of doing so would be, I would even say, almost disastrous,” Gleizes said.

The Psyche mission is designed to reveal the origin of the 140-mile-wide (226 kilometers) asteroid, but its delay has already revealed more than NASA expected. “I’ve heard that JPL had major staffing issues, but that’s true in many places due to the Covid-19 pandemic and other issues,” Byrne said. “But I had no idea how bad things were.”

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