What to know about NASA’s Psyche mission targeting Metal Astroid – NBC Los Angeles

An upcoming NASA JPL mission is set to launch in August and will mark a milestone in space exploration: the Psyche mission will be the first time the space agency has sent a probe to a world made mostly of metal, rather than rock. and ice cream.

The “metal-rich asteroid” targeted by the mission, Psyche, intrigued scientists. They hope that by sending a spacecraft to get closer to the asteroid, they can gather new information about the early days of the planet’s formation.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Psyche mission from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech and Arizona State University.

What is Psyche?

Scientists believe that Earth and other terrestrial planets have dense metallic cores at the center of the magma beneath their surfaces.

But because the metallic core lies so far below the mantle and crust of these planets, it is difficult to measure and study them directly.

Enter Psyche, an asteroid orbiting the solar system between Mars and Jupiter, which may actually be the exposed core of an early planet.

Psyche is approximately 140 miles or 226 kilometers wide.

It’s made of nickel and iron, as well as rock, according to NASA’s JPL mission website, which separates it from the mostly rocky and icy worlds that NASA missions usually target.


NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

This illustration by Peter Rubin shows the 140-mile-wide (226-kilometer-wide) asteroid Psyche. NASA’s JPL is sending a spacecraft to observe the asteroid, which will launch in August 2022.

Why are scientists sending a spacecraft to the asteroid Psyche?

Scientists from NASA JPL, Caltech and ASU are trying to get more information about the iron cores of terrestrial planets, which scientists have struggled to study for years.

By sending a probe to Psyche, scientists hope to gather more information about how the planets formed, as bits of rock, metal and other debris flew around the early universe before merging into the non-gaseous planets that we can see today.

It’s also the first mostly metallic object in space that NASA has attempted to study, creating an exciting opportunity to “explore a new kind of world.”

As the Psyche probe arrives at the asteroid, it will slowly orbit closer and closer to Psyche’s surface, allowing the probe to collect data for scientists to study. This data is sorted into four different categories, which the probe will collect as it moves around Psyche at four different distances, called staging orbits.

Staging orbits allow NASA to observe and collect data on different aspects of the asteroid, according to ASU. The information ranges from the asteroid’s topography to its gravitational properties to how the different elements are distributed within the object.



NASA/JPL-Caltech

This illustration shows how NASA’s Psyche spacecraft will explore the asteroid Psyche, beginning in orbit A when it arrives at the asteroid in early 2026. The initial orbit is designed to be approximately 435 miles away ( 700 kilometers) above the surface of the asteroid. Over the next 20 months, the spacecraft will use its electric propulsion system to dive into lower and lower orbits during its scientific investigation.

By sending the probe, scientists hope to confirm their theory that Psyche is in fact the core of an early planet and determine its age.

They can also examine the materials that Psyche is made of and determine how close they are to their theories about the Earth’s core.

What probe does NASA send to Psyche?

The spacecraft shares a name with the mission and the asteroid it aims to visit.

The Psyche spacecraft has a body “slightly larger than a smart car and about as large as a regulation basketball hoop,” according to ASU. Complete with the solar panels that will power its movement, it’s about as big as a tennis court.

On board, it will carry several scientific instruments to collect data, including:

  • A multispectral imager, which will capture images of the asteroid’s surface,
  • A gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, which will help determine the composition of the asteroid, and
  • A magnetometer, which will measure the asteroid’s magnetic field.

The spacecraft will also test a new method of communication – deep space optical communication – aimed at sending more information back to Earth in a set amount of time.

DSOC technology “encodes data in photons”, which brings information closer to infrared wavelengths than longer radio waves. This will help the probe communicate with scientists on Earth from its position in deep space.

When is Psyche launching?

Currently, the Psyche mission is in its spacecraft assembly and testing phase. Psyche is set to launch on August 1, 2022.

The probe will use low-thrust solar-electric propulsion to travel from Earth through the solar system for a total of 3.5 years, passing Mars in 2023 and using the planet’s gravity to create more forward momentum. ‘asteroid.

The probe will arrive in 2026, where it will spend the next 21 months mapping Psyche and “studying its properties” as it slowly orbits closer to the space object.

The mission is expected to end in October 2027.

About Travis Durham

Check Also

The moon’s best friend: robot dogs could be future lunar explorers

Future lunar explorers could not only bark at the moon, but also search for scientific …