NASA's Psyche Mission To Explore $10,000 Quadrillion Asteroid Enters The Home Stretch

hero spacecraft psyche asteroid psyche
NASA engineers and technicians are performing some of the final preparations for the Psyche spacecraft before its liftoff which is scheduled for October 5, 2023. Teams are working around the clock at Cape Canaveral, Florida, to make sure the spacecraft is ready for its journey to orbit a metal-rich asteroid, also named Psyche, estimated to be worth $10,000 quadrillion.

Scientists and astronomers are hoping that Psyche can glean unique new findings about the history of the solar system's history. The latest data on asteroid Psyche indicates that it is likely made up of a mixture of rock and metal, with metal making up 30-60% of its total mass. If true, this makes Psyche a very unique and interesting asteroid to study, as it could consist largely of metal from the core of a planetesimal (a building block of terrestrial planets in our solar system).

Those studying asteroid Psyche, which measures about 173 miles (279 kilometers) at its widest point, believe it is most likely "a survivor of multiple violent hit-and-run collisions," according to a press release by NASA. Scientists hope that sending spacecraft Psyche to study the asteroid will reveal how Earth's core and the cores of other terrestrial planets came into existence.

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"The team and I are now counting down the days to launch," remarked Henry Stone, Psyche's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "Our focus has shifted to safely completing the final mechanical closeout of the spacecraft and preparing the team for operations." He continued, "The team is conducting numerous training activities to ensure that we are prepared and ready. It's a very busy time, but everyone is very excited and looking forward to the launch."

The next steps that are underway are a team of about 30 engineers and technicians that will finish up the assembly, test, and launch phase of the mission. Once the final cables that weave in and out of the hardware for testing are removed, the team will "close out" the spacecraft by reinstalling some exterior panels removed for easier access. Later this month, they will integrate and test the deployment of the gigantic solar arrays. In mid-August a crew will begin slowly loading 2,392 pounds (1,085 kilograms) of propellant onto the spacecraft over the course of a couple of weeks.

Luis Dominguez, the systems and electrical lead for assembly, test, and launch operations, confidently stated, "We are moving forward, and we're confident that when we're on the pad, we'll be ready to hit the button. For all of us, we'll be excited to launch this bird."

As for the astronomical price put on asteroid Psyche, it originated from Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the lead scientist on the NASA mission and director of Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration. Elkins-Tanton said that if asteroid Psyche could be transported back to Earth somehow, she calculates the value would be in the neighborhood of $10,000 quadrillion.

Once spacecraft Psyche launches and makes its long journey to asteroid Psyche, it will begin a series of science objectives. One will be to determine whether Psyche is a core, or if it is unmelted material. It will also try and determine the relative ages of the asteroid's surface, seek out if Psyche was formed under conditions more oxidizing or more reducing than Earth's, and characterize Psyche's topography.