NASA Psyche Mission

Journey to the Asteroid Belt: NASA’s Psyche Spacecraft Readies for Liftoff

NASA Psyche Mission

NASA’s Psyche mission to a distant metallic asteroid will carry a revolutionary Space Optical Communications (DSOC) package. This artist’s concept shows the Psyche spacecraft with a five-panel array. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University/Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin

Bound for the metal-rich asteroid of the same name, the Psyche mission aims for an October 5 launch from NASA‘s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The spacecraft’s solar panels are enveloped in their storage space. Xenon gas – fuel for travel to the asteroid belt – is loaded. All four surfers passed their final test. Engineers have confirmed that a large high gain antenna is set to transmit data. The software is tested and ready. Scientific instruments – a multispectral imager, a magnetometer, and a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer – that will investigate the asteroid Psyche are ready for action.

NASA’s Psyche spacecraft has less than 30 days left before its launch period, which runs from Thursday, October 5 to Wednesday, October 25. What the mission is learning from the metal-rich asteroid can tell us more about how the planets what they do with it.

“This journey is taking a lot of people and it’s very thorough, rigorous, human-driven,” said Lindy Elkins-Tanton, principal investigator of Psyche at Arizona State University. “I’m ready to be excited. We all are, but we’re not happy yet. Let’s get started and connect – then we can cry, jump, and hug!”

Psyche Mission Team Members Prepare Spacecraft

Members of the Psyche mission team prepare the spacecraft at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in late July, just after the solar arrays have been folded and installed. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Launch Details to come

Within two weeks, technicians will begin covering the spacecraft with its payload fairing – the cone on top of the rocket – and the spacecraft will move SpaceX grants from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Psyche is set to launch the SpaceX Falcon Heavy from Launch Center Complex 39A at 10:38 am. EDT on October 5.

“It’s expanding,” said Henry Stone, Psyche project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.JPL) in Southern California. “We are counting the days. The team is ready to send this spacecraft on its journey, and it is very exciting.”

NASA Psyche Spacecraft's Spiral Path to Asteroid Psyche

NASA’s Psyche spacecraft will take a circular path to the asteroid Psyche, as shown in this diagram, which is written with the main events of the main mission. Test times for NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) technology demonstration are indicated by red dots. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Journey to an Asteroid

After escaping Earth’s gravity, Psyche will use solar electric propulsion to complete its six-year journey to the asteroid. The active propulsion system works by accelerating and ejecting charged atoms, or ions, of the neutral xenon gas – creating thrust that gently propels the spacecraft with a force similar to what you feel holding a single AA battery in your hand. Technicians recently loaded 2,392 kilograms (1,085 pounds) of xenon into the spacecraft in about two weeks.

Measuring about 173 kilometers (279 miles) across, asteroid Psyche offers a unique opportunity to explore a metal-rich body that could be part of the planet’s core, the building block of the first planets. Once the spacecraft arrives at Psyche in the main asteroid belt Mars and Jupiterit will spend about 26 months orbiting the asteroid, collecting images and other data that will tell scientists more about its history and what it is made of.

More about the Mission

Arizona State University leads the Psyche mission. A division of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, JPL is responsible for overall mission management, system engineering, integration and testing, and mission operations. Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, California, has provided the chassis for a high-powered solar powered spaceship.

A technology demonstration called Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) will fly on Psyche. Its purpose is to test high-speed laser communications that could be used by future NASA missions. JPL manages the DSOC Technology Demonstration Mission program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Director and the Space Communications and Navigation Program within the Space Operations Directorate.

Psyche is the 14th mission selected as part of the NASA Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy, manages the launch service.

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