What is NASA’s Psyche mission, which can unveil secrets of early Solar System?

Know key details about NASA’s Psyche Mission and its timeline, objectives, instruments that will explore a unique giant metal asteroid Psyche.

Created On: Oct 6, 2021 14:32 IST
NASA’s Psyche mission, Source: NASA
NASA’s Psyche mission, Source: NASA

NASA’s Psyche mission will be the first to be launched in August 2022 that will explore a giant metal asteroid known as (16) Psyche in the main asteroid belt. The asteroid Psyche is orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. The Psyche mission is one of the two missions of NASA to explore the early Solar System. The Lucy mission is another mission that will set out in September 2021 to explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids to study the early Solar System.

Also read: NASA Lucy Mission: First Spacecraft to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids

What is NASA’s Psyche mission?

NASA’s Psyche mission is the first mission that will explore a unique giant metal asteroid Psyche that is orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. The Psyche mission is being led by Arizona State University. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be looking into mission management, navigation, and operations. The Psyche mission was selected as one of the two missions of NASA to explore the early Solar System on January 4, 2017.

Psyche mission: Timeline

Launch: August 2022

Arrival on Psyche asteroid: 2026

Observation Period of Psyche asteroid: 21 months (studying and mapping the asteroid Psyche)

Psyche mission: Events

2022: Launch of Psyche spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center, Florida

2023: Flying by Mars

2026: Arriving on asteroid Psyche and spending 21 months at the asteroid

Scientific instruments on Psyche mission

(i) X-band Gravity Science Investigation

(ii) Multispectral Imager

(iii) Gamma Ray and Neutron Spectrometer

(iv) Magnetometer

Objectives of Psyche mission

(i) Understand how planets and other bodies separated into their layers including cores, mantles, and crusts

(ii) For the first time, examine an asteroid made not of rock and ice, but metal

(iii) Explore the early eras of our solar system

About the asteroid Psyche

Psyche is the 16th asteroid that was discovered in 1852 by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis. He named the asteroid Psyche after the Goddess of the Soul in ancient Greek mythology. Measuring 130 miles (210 kilometers) in diameter, the asteroid is 3 times farther from the Sun than the Earth.

Unlike other asteroids made up of ice or rock, asteroid Psyche is made up of mostly metallic iron and nickel which is similar to the core of the Earth. Scientists believe that asteroid Psyche could be an exposed core of an early planet as large as Mars but it lost its outer rocky layers due to infinite violent collisions billion years ago.

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