NASA Moves Up Mission to Metal Asteroid Psyche

This illustration depicts the spacecraft of NASA’s Psyche mission orbiting the metal asteroid Psyche (pronounced SY-kee). Solar power with electric propulsion will be used to propel the spacecraft to Psyche. The asteroid’s average distance from the sun is about three times the Earth’s distance or 280 million miles. Credit: SSL/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

I’m getting psyched for Psyche, which is both the name of an asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter and NASA’s mission to the asteroid. Part of the reason for this excitement comes from learning today that NASA has moved up the launch one year to 2022, with a planned arrival in the asteroid belt in 2026 — four years earlier than the original timeline.

The mission team calculated a new trajectory to Psyche, one eliminating the need for an Earth gravity assist, that would get the probe there about twice as fast and reduce costs.


Fly over Psyche in this cool animation

“We challenged the mission design team to explore if an earlier launch date could provide a more efficient trajectory to the asteroid Psyche, and they came through in a big way,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This will enable us to fulfill our science objectives sooner and at a reduced cost.”

Campo del Cielo meteorites are heavy, metallic and dimpled with regmaglypts or “thumbprints” where softer materials melted away during the meteorite’s fall through the air. This small fragment was once part of a different planetary core similar to Psyche. Credit: Bob King

With a diameter of over 120 miles (200 km), Psyche is one of the ten most massive asteroids in the main asteroid belt.  Like certain meteorites found on Earth, it’s made almost entirely of nickel-iron metal. Metal is usually found as pepper-like flecks in stony meteorites, which represent the crust of an asteroid. Heat released during the formation of a large asteroid or planet causes the…

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