Psyche – A mission to a metal world
The story how NASA wants to learn new things about the core of Earth by studying the asteroid Psyche.
(16) Psyche is a massive M-type asteroid discovered in 1852 by Annibale de Gasparis. The asteroid is located in the asteroid belt, a region between the two planets Mars and Jupiter. The celestial body is around 226 km in diameter and contains around 1% of the mass of the entire belt.
Because studies have shown that asteroid (16) is 90% metallic, scientists think that the asteroid is the exposed iron-nickle core of a protoplanet.
The Psyche spacecraft
Psyche is a planned orbiter which will be operated by NASA and the Arizona State University (ASU). The probe will carry different kinds of scientifc payloads such as a magnetometer or a multispectral imager. The spacecraft will be powered by a SPT-140 Hall-effect thruster engine, which is using Xenon as propellant.
With the help of the space probe, scientists want to find out if the asteroid really could be the core of a forming terrestrial planet. If this is the case, how did it form? How old is the object? And can you find the same elements on Psyche which you can find in the core of other rocky planets such as Earth and Venus? To find out answers for the questions, the spacecraft is equiped with different kinds of science experiments.
- Multispectral Imager: provides images with multiple spectral wavelengths
- Gamma Ray and Neuron Spectrometer: this device will measure and map the asteroid´s elemental composition
- Magnetometer: a device that measures the direction, strenght or relative change of a magnetic field at a particular location
- X-band Gravity Science Investigation: with the help of a X-band radio telecommunications system, the spacecraft will measure the asteroid´s gravity field
Mission timeline and events
The spacecraft will launch in 2022 onboard a Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After a flyby at Mars in 2023, the probe will enter orbit around asteroid (16) in 2026. Within 21 months, the probe will conduct scientific studys and map the asteroid.
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Instruments & Science Investigation – Psyche Mission