NASA To Visit Giant Metal Asteroid Psyche In 2022

Posted: May 26 2017, 10:26pm CDT | by , Updated: May 26 2017, 10:32pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA to Visit Giant Metal Asteroid Psyche in 2022
Artist's Concept of Psyche Spacecraf. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University

NASA's robotic spacecraft will be sent to unique metal asteroid a year ahead of schedule

NASA will launch a mission to asteroid Psyche ahead of schedule. Under the revised schedule announced in a statement released by NASA, a robotic spacecraft be sent to the metal asteroid in 2022. The spacecraft will reach its target in 2026 – four years earlier than the original timeline.

“We challenged the mission design team to explore if an earlier launch date could provide a more efficient trajectory to the asteroid Psyche, and they came through in a big way.” Jim Green, director of the NASA’s Planetary Science Division said.

Discovered by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis on March 17th, 1852, Psyche is one of the most intriguing objects in the main asteroid belt that has never been visited before. The asteroid measures about 130 miles in diameter and is among the ten most-massive asteroids in the belt. Unlike most other asteroids that are rocky or icy bodies, Psyche is made primarily of nickel and metallic iron. Researchers estimate that it contains $10,000 quadrillion worth of iron.

The asteroid was formed less than 10 million years after the birth of our sun, making it an object from the earliest eras in the history of our solar system. Researchers suspect that Psyche could be an exposed iron core of an early planet which lost its outer layers due to a number of violent collisions billions of years ago.

As Psyche appears to be made of iron – a building block of our solar system – the mission has a potential to address many questions about the history and formation of our solar system and it could help researchers understand how the sun and the planets in solar system formed, changed over time and became places where life could sustain.

Psyche mission is a part of NASA’s Discovery Program, launched in 1992 to ensure more focused, shorter and low cost solar system exploration. The mission is one of the two Discovery Program’s probes selected earlier this year and was originally targeted to launch in October of 2023, arriving at the asteroid in 2030. The revised trajectory will not only shorten the cruise time but also reduce the amount of protection needed for the spacecraft as it will allow it to stay farther from the sun’s heat and radiation.

“The biggest advantage is the excellent trajectory, which gets us there about twice as fast and is more cost effective," said Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton from Arizona State University. “We are all extremely excited that NASA was able to accommodate this earlier launch date. The world will see this amazing metal world so much sooner."

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