NASA moves up launch of Psyche mission to a metal asteroid

May 25, 2017, NASA
Artist's concept of the Psyche spacecraft, which will conduct a direct exploration of an asteroid thought to be a stripped planetary core. Credit: SSL/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Psyche, NASA's Discovery Mission to a unique metal asteroid, has been moved up one year with launch in the summer of 2022, and with a planned arrival at the main belt asteroid in 2026—four years earlier than the original timeline.

"We challenged the mission design team to explore if an earlier launch date could provide a more efficient 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 Discovery program announcement of opportunity had directed teams to propose missions for launch in either 2021 or 2023. The Lucy mission was selected for the first launch opportunity in 2021, and Psyche was to follow in 2023. Shortly after selection in January, NASA gave the direction to the Psyche team to research earlier opportunities.

"The biggest advantage is the excellent trajectory, which gets us there about twice as fast and is more cost effective," said Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe. "We are all extremely excited that NASA was able to accommodate this earlier launch date. The world will see this amazing metal world so much sooner."

The revised trajectory is more efficient, as it eliminates the need for an Earth gravity assist, which ultimately shortens the cruise time. In addition, the new trajectory stays farther from the sun, reducing the amount of heat protection needed for the spacecraft. The trajectory will still include a Mars gravity assist in 2023.

"The change in plans is a great boost for the team and the mission," said Psyche Project Manager Henry Stone at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "Our mission design team did a fantastic job coming up with this ideal launch opportunity."

The Psyche spacecraft is being built by Space Systems Loral (SSL), Palo Alto, California. In order to support the new mission trajectory, SSL redesigned the solar array system from a four-panel array in a straight row on either side of the spacecraft to a more powerful five-panel x-shaped design, commonly used for missions requiring more capability. Much like a sports car, by combining a relatively small spacecraft body with a very high-power solar array design, the Psyche spacecraft will speed to its destination at a faster pace than is typical for a larger spacecraft.

"By increasing the size of the solar arrays, the spacecraft will have the power it needs to support the higher velocity requirements of the updated mission," said SSL Psyche Program Manager Steve Scott.

The Psyche Mission

Psyche, an asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter, is made almost entirely of nickel-iron metal. As such, it offers a unique look into the violent collisions that created Earth and the terrestrial planets.

The Psyche Mission was selected for flight earlier this year under NASA's Discovery Program, a series of lower-cost, highly focused robotic space missions that are exploring the solar system.

The scientific goals of the Psyche mission are to understand the building blocks of planet formation and explore firsthand a wholly new and unexplored type of world. The team seeks to determine whether Psyche is the core of an early planet, how old it is, whether it formed in similar ways to Earth's core, and what its surface is like. The 's instrument payload will include magnetometers, multispectral imagers, and a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer.

Explore further: NASA announces two missions to study early solar system

More information: For more information about NASA's Psyche mission go to www.nasa.gov/psyche

Related Stories

Pure metal asteroid has mysterious water deposits

November 2, 2016

Water has been showing up in all sorts of unexpected places in our solar system, such as the Moon, Mercury and Saturn's moon Ganymede. Add one more place to the list: Asteroid 16 Psyche. This metal-rich asteroid may have ...

A mission to a metal world—The Psyche mission

October 9, 2015

In their drive to set exploration goals for the future, NASA's Discovery Program put out the call for proposals for their thirteenth Discovery mission in February 2014. After reviewing the 27 initial proposals, a panel of ...

NASA selects investigations for future key planetary mission

October 1, 2015

NASA has selected five science investigations for refinement during the next year as a first step in choosing one or two missions for flight opportunities as early as 2020. Three of those chosen have ties to NASA's Jet Propulsion ...

Recommended for you

The surprising environment of an enigmatic neutron star

September 17, 2018

An unusual infrared emission detected by the Hubble Space Telescope from a nearby neutron star could indicate that the pulsar has features never before seen. The observation, by a team of researchers at Penn State, Sabanci ...

Ceres takes life an ice volcano at a time

September 17, 2018

Every year throughout its 4.5-billion-year life, ice volcanoes on the dwarf planet Ceres generate enough material on average to fill a movie theater, according to a new study led by the University of Arizona.

TESS shares first science image in hunt to find new worlds

September 17, 2018

NASA's newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is now providing valuable data to help scientists discover and study exciting new exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system. Part of the ...

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

DrewQ
1 / 5 (1) May 25, 2017
"By increasing the size of the solar arrays, the spacecraft will have the power it needs to support the higher velocity requirements of the updated mission,"

Why does a higher velocity require more solar arrays? Does the electricity generated somehow turn into thrust?
PTTG
1 / 5 (1) May 25, 2017
No, but it sounds like its going to go farther from the sun at apoapsis, and so may require more solar power capacity at the time. Maybe the journalist just mangled the explanation.
Mark Thomas
2.3 / 5 (3) May 25, 2017
"The biggest advantage is the excellent trajectory, which gets us there about twice as fast and is more cost effective."

Selecting a mission to Psyche was brilliant to begin with. This development makes it even better. If only the news ran like this more often . . .
skyrien
not rated yet May 25, 2017
"By increasing the size of the solar arrays, the spacecraft will have the power it needs to support the higher velocity requirements of the updated mission,"

Why does a higher velocity require more solar arrays? Does the electricity generated somehow turn into thrust?


I'm assuming this is due to the xenon ion thruster used for the Psyche mission; the greater the potential gradient, the more impulse can be provided by those ejected ions.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.