NASA's Psyche mission aims to explore a 140-miles-wide metal-rich asteroid called '16-Psyche.' The agency will launch a robotic spacecraft atop SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket towards an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The mission was previously scheduled to lift off atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket almost a year ago in 2022 from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. However, when NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) team began testing the asteroid-mining spacecraft to ensure it worked properly, an issue was discovered with the Psyche spacecraft software causing the agency to delay the mission indefinitely.
An Independent Review Board (IRB) investigated the causes of the mission’s delay to determine whether the spacecraft will be able to overcome the issues to successfully launch in 2023. The independent review board completed its investigation this month. Now, the agency says it is back on track to launch the asteroid-mining Psyche mission later this year atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.
Last week, IRB completed an assessment and NASA JPL officials held a press conference to discuss the Psyche mission. “[...] The IRB believes the response to our Psyche project and JPL institution findings and recommendations to be excellent,” retired aerospace executive A. Thomas Young, who led the IRB, said during a press conference on June 5th. “We believe that Psyche is on a positive course for an October 2023 launch. We believe the 2023 launch readiness date is credible, and the overall probability of mission success is high,” he said.
If the Psyche mission lifts off in October this year, the spacecraft will arrive to the asteroid in over six years from now. It will fly towards the Red Planet where it will use a Mars gravity assist sometime in 2026, and NASA estimates it will arrive at the Psyche asteroid by August 2029. NASA astronomers have a great interest in the 16-Psyche asteroid because it is composed of metallic iron and nickel – one of the building blocks of our solar system, a composition similar to Earth’s core. They believe the asteroid could offer insight into the early years of our solar system. 16-Psyche is 95% metal, believed to be a nickel-iron core of an ancient planet, whose rocky outer layers were stripped away by cosmic impacts. Terrestrial planets like Earth, have metallic cores lying below the rocky surface, deep within rocky mantles. On Earth, scientists can't dig too deep to study the core because machinery would melt. So, the mission could offer insight into how planets evolve.
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About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.