Inside NASA’s trip to an asteroid worth 70,000 times the world economy – Robb Report

POTthe mission of a asteroid that could be worth 70,000 times the world economy it is expected to start this year.

The space agency decided in 2017 that humanity would benefit from a closer look at 16 Psyche. The Psyche mission was initially scheduled for late 2022, but was delayed for “development problems”. NASA is now planning to launch the spaceship Psyche is October. The ship should reach the ultra-valuable asteroid in August 2029.

Here’s everything we know so far about the Psyche asteroid, the upcoming Psyche mission, and the Psyche spacecraft.

What is 16 Psyche?

Asteroid Psyche 16

Artist’s conception of the asteroid 16 Psyche.

Makhar/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Calt

Named after the Greek goddess of the soul, Psyche was discovered by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis on March 17, 1852. The giant M-type asteroid is believed to be the partial nucleus of a small planet that did not fully form. during the first days. of our solar system.

The metal-rich asteroid is about the size of Massachusetts and shaped like a potato, according to astronomers. Its average diameter is about 140 miles, or about the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego. The asteroid orbits between Mars and Jupiter at a distance ranging from 235 to 309 million miles from the Sun. (You can get a real-time simulated view from Psyche here.)

A study published by The Planetary Science Journal in 2020 suggests that Psyche is made almost entirely of iron and nickel. This metallic composition distinguishes it from other asteroids that are generally composed of rock or ice, and could suggest that it was originally part of a planetary core. That would not only represent a momentous discovery, but is key to Psyche’s potential astronomical value: NASA scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton calculated that The iron on the asteroid alone could be worth as much as $10,000 quadrillion (Yes, you read that right.) For context, the entire global economy is worth approximately $110 trillion at the time of writing. However, more recent research from the University of Arizona suggests that the asteroid might not be as metallic or dense as previously thought. Psyche could actually be closer to a rubble pile, rather than an exposed planetary core, the research claims. If true, this would devalue the asteroid. NASA’s next mission should settle the Pysche composition debate once and for all.

Of course, Psyche isn’t the only valuable rock in space. NASA has previously mentioned the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter contains mineral wealth equivalent to about $100 billion for every individual on Earth. The hard part is mining the precious metals within each asteroid and successfully bringing them to Earth. So you have the whole conundrum of supply and demand that could drive the price of specific metals up or down. We’ll leave the intricacies of space mining for another day.

Why is NASA traveling to 16 Psyche?

NASA psyche spaceship

NASA’s Psyche spacecraft in December 2022.


If Psyche is, in fact, the leftover core of a planet that never properly formed, it could reveal secrets about Earth’s own core. The interior of terrestrial planets is normally hidden under the mantle and crust, but Psyche has no such outer layers. The asteroid’s mantle and crust were likely torn away by multiple violent collisions during the early formation of our solar system. By examining Psyche, we can better understand how Earth’s core came to be. The mission could also provide information about the formation of our solar system and planetary systems around other stars.

According to NASA, this marks humanity’s first exploration of a world made largely of metal. The Psyche spacecraft will use special tools to identify the types of materials that make up the asteroid. Is it really iron and nickel, for example? Or something else? The spacecraft will also measure Psyche’s gravity and magnetic field and determine the asteroid’s topography. All this will tell us more about the history and evolution of the formation of Psyche.

What is the Psyche spaceship and how does it work?

Technicians from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida perform work on the agency's Psyche spacecraft inside the Hazardous Payload Servicing Facility (PHSF) on May 3, 2022. While inside the PHSF, the spacecraft will undergo routine processing and servicing prior to launch.  Psyche aims to lift off aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on August 1, 2022. The spacecraft will use solar electric propulsion to travel approximately 1.5 billion miles to meet its namesake asteroid in 2026. The Psyche mission is led by the arizona state.  University.  NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, managed for the agency by Caltech in Pasadena, California, is responsible for overall mission management, system engineering, integration and testing, and mission operations.  Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, California provided the chassis for the high-powered solar electric propulsion spacecraft.  NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP), based at Kennedy, is managing the launch.  Psyche will be the 14th mission in the agency's Discovery program and the 100th major LSP mission.

Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida perform work on Psyche.

NASA/Isaac Watson

Measuring 10 feet by 8 feet, Psyche is slightly larger than a smart car. Instead of running on traditional rocket fuel, the spacecraft will produce its own solar power. It is equipped with large solar panels, making it as big as a tennis court once deployed, which will generate electricity to power the ion engine and innovative new Hall thruster. Essentially, the electricity from the solar panels is used to convert the fuel source (xenon gas) into xenon ions that are expelled to provide thrust. (The xenon propellant also produces a cool blue glow.) Pysche will gradually increase speed using ion propulsion. The spacecraft will also pass by Mars to receive a gravitational boost during its journey to the asteroid.

Additionally, Psyche will be equipped with a variety of futuristic technology. The spacecraft will test something called “Deep Space Optical Communication,” in which messages are encoded in photons (particles of light) instead of radio waves. It could mean transmitting a lot more data to Earth in a given amount of time.

The spacecraft will also have a neutron and gamma ray spectrometer to identify the types of materials in Psyche; a magnetometer to measure the asteroid’s magnetic field; and a multispectral imager for capturing high-resolution snapshots. To top it off, Psyche will use radio waves to measure the asteroid’s gravity. This, combined with maps of the asteroid’s surface features, should give us more information about the asteroid’s interior structure.

How much will the psyche quest cost?

NASA psyche spaceship

The Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) chassis of NASA’s Psyche spacecraft.


NASA says total Psyche lifecycle mission costs (including rocket) are $985 million. A total of $717 million has been spent on the project as of last July. It sounds like a pittance compared to that 10,000 quadrillion dollars.

How long will the psyche quest take?

NASA psyche spaceship

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in southern California.


Psyche will travel about 280 million miles to reach the asteroid of the same name. The spacecraft is expected to launch in a spacex Falcon Heavy rocket in October 2023. The spacecraft will target a gravity assist of Mars in 2026 to help it on the next leg of the journey. It will then spend 21 months measuring and mapping, gradually narrowing its orbit until it passes just above the surface of Psyche. If all goes to plan, Psyche will arrive at the asteroid in August 2029. NASA says the mission team is continuing to complete tests of the spacecraft’s flight software in preparation for the October launch date. Good luck, Psyche.

Watch a NASA video about the Psyche mission below:

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