NASA Prepares to Launch Psyche Spacecraft to Study Metal-Rich Asteroid

NASA is gearing up to dispatch the Psyche spacecraft on an exploratory mission to the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter, aiming to discern the nature and composition of the asteroid named Psyche.

Quick Facts

  • Launch Time: Scheduled for Friday at 10:19 a.m. Eastern time after an earlier delay due to adverse weather. The liftoff will be live-streamed on NASA’s platforms.
  • Spacecraft Details: Psyche will journey on Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s largest orbital rocket, essential for carrying the hefty spacecraft to its destination.
  • Asteroid Psyche: Discovered in 1852, this asteroid stands out from its peers due to its potential metal-rich composition, raising questions about its origin and the early solar system.

Curiosity surrounds the asteroid Psyche. Historically observed by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis in 1852, it was christened after the Greek deity of the soul. Over the years, through the use of telescopes and radar, scientists postulated that Psyche’s composition might deviate from the norm, leaning towards being metal-rich. This distinctive characteristic provoked the theory that the asteroid might be the remnants of a planetesimal’s core.

Yet, with the evolution of technology and better observation techniques, the understanding of Psyche’s density has seen modifications. While it’s established that it contains a significant metal component, there’s uncertainty about what else constitutes the asteroid. Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton from Arizona State University, the mission’s principal investigator, comments on the ambiguity of its composition. She emphasizes the high possibility of metal presence but also hints at other constituents, possibly rock or even vacant space.

The mission’s timeline post-launch is mapped out meticulously. In May 2026, the spacecraft will use Mars’ gravity as a catapult, facilitating its journey to the asteroid. Expected to cover a distance of 2.2 billion miles, Psyche will reach its namesake asteroid by August 2029. Upon arrival, the spacecraft is slated to orbit the asteroid for a minimum of 26 months, employing an array of instruments to scrutinize the celestial body.

For Further ReadingConcept Summary
Asteroid BeltThe asteroid belt is a circumstellar disc in the Solar System, located roughly between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter. It is populated by numerous irregularly shaped bodies called asteroids or minor planets. This belt is believed to contain many remnants from the Solar System’s early formation. [Wikipedia]


  • Why is the mission named Psyche?The mission is named after the asteroid Psyche, which itself was named for the Greek goddess of the soul by its discoverer, Annibale de Gasparis, in 1852.
  • What sets asteroid Psyche apart from other asteroids?Asteroid Psyche’s potential metal-rich composition differentiates it from most other asteroids, leading scientists to theorize it could be the core of a former planetesimal.
  • How will NASA study the asteroid once the spacecraft reaches it?Upon arrival at the asteroid, the Psyche spacecraft plans to orbit it for at least 26 months, deploying various instruments to examine the asteroid in detail.

Original Article Source: New York Times

Leave a Comment