NASA has been showing-off its latest spacecraft to the media. “Psyche,” still in the clean room of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, is about to be taken to Florida for its launch this August on an exciting mission to explore a mysterious—and possibly the most valuable—asteroid of the same name.
It target is officially called “16 Psyche” because it was the 16th asteroid ever discovered back in 1852. It’s also the brightest and most reflective asteroid of all, which leads scientists to suspect that it may be made largely of metal.
Scientists know of meteorites that are mostly metal, but 16 Psyche could be unique in that it might be an asteroid that is totally made of iron and nickel.
Some think that the metals that comprise Psyche could make be worth about $10,000 quadrillion. The global economy was worth about $142 trillion in 2019.
Its strange composition could be because Psyche is actually the leftover core of a “dead” planet that never made it—a “protoplanet.”
If it is then it will be considered to be one of the building blocks of the rocky planets in the Solar System. 16 Psyche could therefore provide a unique opportunity to study how planets like our own Earth formed, say scientists.
16 Psyche is about 140 miles/226 kilometers wide and orbits the Sun from the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It’s about 230 million miles/370 million kilometers from Earth.
The van-size spacecraft shown-off to reporters this week will launch from the Kennedy Space Center atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket during August 2022, fly by Mars for a gravity assist in May 2023 and, in early 2026, finally go into orbit around 16 Psyche.
The Psyche spacecraft will then orbit 16 Psyche for 21 months and investigate its composition.
“Welcoming reporters into the clean room gives the public a glimpse of the years of hard work that have gone into this mission,” said Brian Bone, Psyche’s assembly, test, and launch operations manager at JPL. “Thanks to the Psyche team’s determination and skill, we’re in the final stretch of readying the spacecraft to head out to our launch site in Florida.”
Psyche is the 14th mission in NASA’s Discovery Program.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.