NASA Will Launch ‘Psyche’ Mission To Explore Asteroid Worth More Than The Global Economy

A NASA mission to reveal more about a massive metal asteroid between Mars and Jupiter will go ahead after all, the space agency has announced.

16 Psyche—a 140-mile-wide/226-kilometer-wide asteroid—could contain a core of iron, nickel and gold worth $10,000 quadrillion.

NASA’s Psyche spacecraft was set to launch in August 2022 and arrive at the asteroid in 2026. However, software issues and mission development problems meant the mission missed its window. An internal continuation/termination review followed that asked if the mission would be able to overcome its issues to successfully launch in 2023.

NASA has now announced its decision to take the Psyche mission forward and target a launch no earlier than October 10, 2023.
“I’m extremely proud of the Psyche team,” said JPL Director Laurie Leshin. “During this review, they have demonstrated significant progress already made toward the future launch date. I am confident in the plan moving forward and excited by the unique and important science this mission will return.”

The Psyche mission is part of NASA’s Discovery Program of low-cost robotic space missions. Most asteroids are rocky or icy, but since 16 Psyche is thought to be the exposed metallic heart of a dead planet it’s hoped that the mission will provide insights into the our understanding of Earth’s planet’s core.

Software issues have set the mission’s timeline back by three years. Although when it takes off on top of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in October 2023 it will only have launched a little over a year late, celestial mechanics mean that it won’t get an all-important gravity-assist from Mars until 2026 instead of 2023.
Consequently the Psyche spacecraft will arrive at the asteroid—which is in the solar system’s main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter—in August 2029 instead of the originally planned January 2026. The orbiter will then begin at least 21 months in orbit mapping and studying the asteroid’s properties.

The Psyche spacecraft will then use its three science instruments to make measurements of asteroid:

a magnetometer to measure the asteroid’s magnetic field.
a multispectral imager to capture images of its surface and data, about what its made of, and its geological features.
spectrometers that analyze the neutrons and gamma rays coming from the surface to reveal what the asteroid is made of.
Also part of the mission is NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications tech demo, which will test high-data-rate laser “space broadband.” That could mean, in future, live video from Mars.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.