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What is Psyche Mission? Know all about NASA’s journey to a $10 quintillion 279-km wide asteroid

After months of delays, NASA finally launched its Psyche mission on October 13 via a SpaceX Falcon rocket Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission was initially due to launch not before September 20, 2022, but was postponed due to late delivery of the spacecraft’s software and testing equipment. NASA then planned the launch for October 12, but the launch was again scrapped due to unfavourable weather conditions. The mission was then rescheduled for October 13, and this time the launch did happen. Know all about it.

What is NASA’s Psyche mission?

The Psyche mission is part of NASA’s Discovery missions. NASA will study an asteroid called 16 Psyche which is currently orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. It was discovered in 1852 by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis. According to NASA, 16 Psyche orbits the Sun in the outer part of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and is three times farther from the Sun compared to Earth.

One of the most astonishing facts about this asteroid is that it is made up of gold, silver and nickel deposits, making it metal-rich. According to NASA, it could be worth more than Earth’s economy put together. It is worth a staggering $10 quintillion! Other than its gold-rich structure, the outer surface of this asteroid is nickel-rich which resembles an early planet’s core. It is also one of the biggest asteroids in our solar system – 279-km across at its widest point.

Psyche mission objectives

The spacecraft will enter 16 Psyche asteroid’s orbit in 2029 and spend two years mapping the asteroid topography, scanning the surface, taking pictures, and more, with the aim of gaining information about its makeup as well as learn how metal core asteroids and planets are formed. This could be an important step to study the formation of Earth itself as well, NASA says.

The objectives of the mission include determining the age of regions on the asteroid, studying its formation, characterizing its topography and studying dips in the asteroid’s gravity. Through the mission, scientists also hope to explore an unknown building block of planet formation – iron cores. It will also be the first time that a spacecraft will study a world made not of rocks and ice, but metal.

With its Psyche mission, scientists have a chance to study how terrestrial planets were formed, without having to carve up the Earth.

Tech used in Psyche mission

To conduct various experiments and studies, the Psyche spacecraft has a suite of advanced instruments on board, such as multispectral imager, magnetometer, gamma ray and neutron meter and more.

The Psyche mission will also test a new laser communication technology called Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC). This technology encodes data in photons at infrared wavelengths for deep-space communication. Based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, this technology could reduce the communication time between Earth and deep space, allowing more data to be sent.



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