Psyche is an asteroid orbiting the Sun between Jupiter and Mars that consists mostly of nickel-iron metal. Experts believe this may be the core of an early planet, which would give scientists a window into the early universe.
With the chance to further our understanding of Earth’s beginnings, NASA formed the Psyche Mission. This future exploration falls in line under NASA’s Discover Program series—a number of low-cost and focused robotic space missions.
Recently, the team shed one year off the projected launch date, now scheduled for the summer of 2022. The spacecraft will arrive at the main belt asteroid by 2026, which is four years early than its original plans. The orbiter is expected to stay for a 20-month observation period.
“The biggest advantage is the excellent trajectory, which gets us there about twice as fast and is more cost effective,” says Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe. “We are all extremely excited that NASA was able to accommodate this earlier launch date. The world will see this amazing metal world so much sooner.”
Built by Space Systems Loral (SSL), the Psyche spacecraft will need to go through a few design changes to support the accelerated timeline. Instead of its solar array sporting a four-panel system in a straight row on either side, the spacecraft will now feature a more powerful, five-panel x-shaped configuration.
“By increasing the size of the solar arrays, the spacecraft will have the power it needs to support the higher velocity requirements of the updated mission,” says SSL Psyche Program Manager Steve Scott.
Additional scientific instruments include a multispectral imager, gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, and magnetometer.
In addition to verifying whether Psyche is the core of an early planet, the mission aims to determine the asteroid’s age, surface, and if its formation resembles that of Earth’s core.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense