NASA’s Psyche spacecraft arrives at Kennedy Space Center

An illustration, created in March 2021, of NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, due to launch to the main asteroid belt in August 2022 to investigate the metal-rich asteroid Psyche. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

The Psyche spacecraft has completed its journey from " data-gt-translate-attributes="[{" attribute="">Nasa‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. First, he flew to March Air Reserve Base, about 55 miles southeast of JPL in Riverside County, Calif., before flying across the country aboard a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft to the Launch and Landing Facility (formerly the Shuttle Landing Facility) where crews disembarked the spacecraft. Over the next three months, the spacecraft will undergo additional preparations before launching aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on August 1, 2022.

The Psyche spacecraft will use solar-electric propulsion to travel approximately 1.5 billion miles (2.4 billion kilometers) to rendezvous with its namesake asteroid in 2026. This will make it the first spacecraft to use Hall effect thrusters beyond the Moon’s orbit. This propellant technology traps electrons in a magnetic field and uses them to ionize the onboard propellant, consuming far less propellant than equivalent chemical rockets. Psyche also carries three scientific instruments: an imager, a magnetometer, and a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer.

NASA C-17 Psyche spaceplane

Preparations are underway to unload NASA’s Psyche spacecraft from the C-17 aircraft it arrived in at the Kennedy Space Center Launch and Landing Facility in Florida on April 29, 2022. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The unique, metal-rich asteroid Psyche could be part of a planetesimal core, a building block of rocky planets in our solar system. Knowing more about the asteroid could tell us more about the formation of our own planet and help answer fundamental questions about Earth’s metallic core and the formation of our solar system.

The Psyche launch will include two secondary payloads, NASA’s DSOC (Deep Space Optical Communications) technical demonstration, which is attached to the spacecraft as a separate experiment, and the Janus spacecraft. DSOC will perform the agency’s first demonstration of optical communications beyond the Earth-Moon system and will use lasers to send data at a higher rate than typical spacecraft radio communications. Janus is two small spacecraft that will study two different binary asteroids (two asteroids that orbit each other) to understand the formation and evolution of these objects.

Psyche spaceship asteroid composite

NASA’s Psyche mission to a distant metallic asteroid will carry a revolutionary Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) package. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Mission Psyche is led by Arizona State University. JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., is responsible for overall mission management, system engineering, integration and testing, and mission operations. Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, Calif., provided the chassis for the high-powered solar-electric powered spacecraft. NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), based in Kennedy, is managing the launch. Psyche will be the 14th mission of the agency’s Discovery program and the 100th main mission of LSP. Many international, academic and commercial partners are part of the Psyché team.

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