Solar Electric Propulsion Makes NASA’s Psyche Spacecraft Go

NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is photographed in July 2021 during the mission’s assembly, test, and launch operations phase at JPL. Hall thrusters – two of which are visible beneath red round protective covers – will propel the spacecraft to its target in the main asteroid belt. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Futuristic electric thrusters emitting a cool blue glow will guide the Psyche spacecraft through deep space to a metal-rich asteroid.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — When it comes time for NASA’s Psyche spacecraft to power itself through deep space, it’ll be more brain than brawn that does the work. Once the stuff of science fiction, the efficient and quiet power of electric propulsion will provide the force that propels the Psyche spacecraft all the way to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The orbiter’s target: a metal-rich asteroid also called Psyche.

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Asteroid 16 Psyche Might Not Be What Scientists Expected

Artist rendition of the asteroid Psyche. (Credit: Peter Rubin/ASU)

New UArizona research finds that the target asteroid of NASA’s Psyche mission may not be as metallic or dense as previously predicted.

By Mikayla Mace Kelley
University of Arizona Communications

The widely studied metallic asteroid known as 16 Psyche was long thought to be the exposed iron core of a small planet that failed to form during the earliest days of the solar system. But new University of Arizona-led research suggests that the asteroid might not be as metallic or dense as once thought, and hints at a much different origin story.

Scientists are interested in 16 Psyche because if its presumed origins are true, it would provide an opportunity to study an exposed planetary core up close. NASA is scheduled to launch its Psyche mission in 2022 and arrive at the asteroid in 2026.

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NASA Begins Final Assembly of Spacecraft Destined for Asteroid Psyche

In late March of 2021, a main component of NASA’s Psyche spacecraft was delivered to JPL, where assembly, test, and launch operations are underway. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Set to launch next year, the agency’s Psyche spacecraft will explore a metal-rich asteroid in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — A major component of NASA’s Psyche spacecraft has been delivered to the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the phase known as assembly, test, and launch operations is now underway. Over the next year, the spacecraft will finish assembly and undergo rigorous checkout and testing before it’s shipped to Cape Canaveral, Florida, for an August 2022 launch to the main asteroid belt.

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SwRI Study Offers More Complete View of Massive Asteroid Psyche

Artist rendition of the asteroid Psyche. (Credit: Peter Rubin/ASU)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (SwRI PR) — A new study authored by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) planetary scientist Dr. Tracy Becker discusses several new views of the asteroid 16 Psyche, including the first ultraviolet observations. The study, which was published today in The Planetary Science Journal and presented at the virtual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences, paints a clearer view of the asteroid than was previously available.

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