MAY 31, 2017 8:43 AM PDT

NASA Expedites Psyche Mission to Visit the Metal Asteroid 4 Years Earlier

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

NASA recently announced it would be expediting its mission to visit Psyche, a metallic asteroid floating around in the Solar System. The goal is to learn more about the unique qualities of metallic asteroids and how they form.

An artist's impression of Psyche and the spacecraft that will visit it.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin

The new launch date in 2022, which is now being scheduled for one year earlier because of favorable orbital conditions, means that the spacecraft will arrive at Psyche in 2026, which is four years earlier than the original estimated time of arrival.

Related: This $5.4 trillion-dollar space rock is made almost entirely of platinum, and it's floating away from Earth in space

The benefits of expediting the mission, of course, are to get scientific data sooner than previously possible and reduce costs associated with expensive space travel by taking advantage of the pleasant trajectory, which reduces our dependence on Earth’s gravity for help.

“We challenged the mission design team to explore if an earlier launch date could provide a more efficient trajectory to the asteroid Psyche, and they came through in a big way,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This will enable us to fulfill our science objectives sooner and at a reduced cost.”

The new timing also means NASA doesn’t have to spend as much on heat shield protection, as the spacecraft will spend more time further away from the Sun than it would have in the original ETA. This also means the spacecraft will receive higher-quality solar panels, which can power it while further away from the Sun’s light for longer.

Although we won’t be using Earth’s gravitational pull to assist the spacecraft’s journey to its destination, we will still be using Mars’ gravitational influence to help it get where it needs to go. This means we can use less fuel and conserve energy on the way to Psyche.

Related: When it comes to asteroid collisions, size does matter

Psyche is so interesting because its high metal composition has scientists thinking that it may be the case due to being a chunk of a failed planet’s core. In other words, things didn’t quite stick together like they were supposed to, so the planet never had a chance to form as it had intended.

While it’s just a theory at this point in time, getting up close and personal with Psyche could reveal some answers about the asteroid, and metallic asteroids in general, all in one fell swoop.

For now, you can see the following illustration of what Psyche might look like as the spacecraft meets its destination:

It should be interesting to see what might become of researching Psyche, as there is certainly a lot of interest in eventually mining space rocks for their valuable resources, which can be put to good use right here on Earth.

Source: NASA

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
MAY 31, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Another SpaceX Starship Prototype Explodes During Testing
MAY 31, 2020
Another SpaceX Starship Prototype Explodes During Testing
Incomplete Starship prototypes are a common sight if you follow SpaceX’s plethora of rocket-centric projects, but ...
JUN 09, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Can Time Flow Backward? Very Unlikely According to a Recent Black Hole Simulation
JUN 09, 2020
Can Time Flow Backward? Very Unlikely According to a Recent Black Hole Simulation
The idea of time in physics is often associated with the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy of ...
JUL 07, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Should We Fly By Venus on the Way to Mars?
JUL 07, 2020
Should We Fly By Venus on the Way to Mars?
After landing on the Moon, heading to Mars became the next logical step for space exploration. Some suggest that flying ...
SEP 08, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Reusable Chinese Space Craft Lands Returns Earth
SEP 08, 2020
Reusable Chinese Space Craft Lands Returns Earth
The Chinese government has announced the safe return of a reusable spacecraft, called Chongfu Shiyong Shiyan Hangtian Qi ...
SEP 15, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Carbon-rich Planets May Be Full of Diamonds
SEP 15, 2020
Carbon-rich Planets May Be Full of Diamonds
Researchers from Arizona State University and the University of Chicago have found that carbon-rich planets outside our ...
OCT 09, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Ultra-hot Exoplanet Vaporizes Iron in its Atmosphere
OCT 09, 2020
Ultra-hot Exoplanet Vaporizes Iron in its Atmosphere
Researchers from the University of Bern in Germany have found that an exoplanet, known as WASP-121b, is so hot that it c ...
Loading Comments...