NASA is one step closer to exploring 16 Psyche

Date:10 July 2020 Author: Kyro Mitchell

NASA is one step closer to achieving its mission of exploring the metallic asteroid known as 16 Psyche after passing the Critical Design Review (CDR) on 7 July.

16 Psyche is an unusual 225 kilometre-wide asteroid made up of metallic iron and nickel, a similar composition to that of Earth’s core. Scientists believe 16 Psyche could potentially be the exposed core of an ancient planet. By studying 16 Psyche, scientists could gain a far more comprehensive understanding of how Earth was formed, and how it could possibly die in the future.

To prove this hypothesis, a probe will be tasked with conducting an in-depth analysis of the asteroid by using three science instruments; these include a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, multispectral imager and a magnetometer.

The probe will replay its findings back to NASA using an instrument called Deep Space Optical Communication. The Deep Space Optical Communication instrument transmits data back to Earth using photons instead of the conventional radio-wave method.

Thanks to a successful CDR assessment, the space organisation is one step closer to achieving this goal.

“It’s one of the most intense reviews a mission goes through in its entire life cycle,” Psyche principal investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton, managing director and co-chair of the Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University, said in a statement. “And we passed with flying colors. The challenges are not over, and we’re not at the finish line, but we’re running strong.”

During the CDR, NASA officials rigorously assessed the design of every system and subsystem that will be used on the mission, this includes testing everything from scientific instruments to communications to power and propulsion gear.

Now that the probe design has been approved, NASA’s Psyche team can focus all of their energy and resources on building the actual probe and hardware for the mission. Assembly and testing operations on the probe are scheduled to begin in February 2021, with all of the accompanying science gear scheduled to arrive at the main clean room of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, by April of 2021.

NASA plan on launching the Psyche probe aboard the SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket in August 2022, then perform a gravity-assist flyby of Mars in May 2023, and if all goes according to plan, arrive in orbit around 16 Psyche in 2026. The mission is believed to cost NASA around $850 million in total.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

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