Its mission is to journey to a unique metal-rich asteroid, also named Psyche, which orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. This asteroid is believed to be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet, offering insights into the building blocks of planet formation. The spacecraft is designed to study the asteroid’s composition, topography, and magnetic properties, among other things. By studying Psyche, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of the history of our solar system, the evolution of planets, and the metallic cores of terrestrial bodies.
Let’s look at some facts and figures that make the Psyche mission unique:
- This will be the first time NASA has explored a world made not of rock and ice, but with large amounts of metal, as the mission seeks to understand a previously unexplored building block of planet formation: iron cores.
- Psyche is the first primary NASA science mission to be launched on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.
- Psyche will be the eighth Falcon Heavy mission for SpaceX.
- Psyche marks the 102nd full end-to-end mission for NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP).
- Psyche will be the second LSP science mission to launch from Launch Complex 39A (IXPE).
- Psyche will be the seventh overall LSP science mission to fly on a SpaceX rocket (Jason-3, TESS, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, DART, IXPE, SWOT)
- Psyche will be the fourth LSP mission to launch on a previously flown Falcon first stage (DART, IXPE, SWOT).
- NASA will have the first optical communications demonstration from distances farther than the Moon, through DSOC (Deep Space Optical Communications), which will operate during the first two years of the roughly six-year journey to Psyche.
- Just over 2.5 years into the mission, the Psyche spacecraft will fly by the planet Mars for a gravity assist.
- The Psyche spacecraft will travel 2.2 billion miles on its journey to the asteroid Psyche.
- Along with DSOC, other instruments carried on the Psyche spacecraft include two multispectral imagers, two magnetometers, and a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer.
- The Psyche spacecraft will arrive at the asteroid Psyche in 2029, after about six years of a solar electric-powered cruise.
- The Psyche spacecraft will spend 26 months in orbit around the asteroid Psyche, mapping and studying Psyche’s properties.