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NASA Approves Final Phase of Psyche Mission to Probe Gold and Platinum-Loaded Asteroid

The Psyche mission aims to understand the building blocks of planet formation by “exploring firsthand a wholly new and uncharted type of world.”

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Updated:June 27, 2019, 6:28 PM IST
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NASA Approves Final Phase of Psyche Mission to Probe Gold and Platinum-Loaded Asteroid
The Psyche mission aims to understand the building blocks of planet formation by “exploring firsthand a wholly new and uncharted type of world.”
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NASA has approved the final design and fabrication phase of its Psyche Mission ahead of its 2022 launch to probe asteroid Psyche 16 that “contains enough gold to make everyone on Earth a billionaire.”

Nestled between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, Psyche 16 is loaded with gold and “heaps of platinum, iron, and nickel,” reports The Sun.

If these were brought to earth, the global economy would collapse.

 

Thankfully, NASA is only interested in exploring the “unique look” the metal  asteroid could provide into the “solar system's distant past when the kind of high-speed protoplanet encounters that created Earth and the other terrestrial planets were common.”

The mission will arrive at Psyche 16, discovered in 1852 by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis, around 2026.  

“After extensive review, NASA Headquarters in Washington has approved the mission to begin the final design and fabrication phase, otherwise known as Phase C. This is when the Psyche team finalizes the system design, develops detailed plans and procedures for the spacecraft and science mission, and completes both assembly and testing of the spacecraft and its subsystems,” according to the US government agency.

"The Psyche team is not only related that we have the go-ahead for Phase C, more importantly, we are ready," said Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe. "With the transition into this new mission phase, we are one big step closer to uncovering the secrets of Psyche, a giant mysterious metallic asteroid, and that means the world to us."

The mission still has three more phases to clear: Phase D, which will begin sometime in early 2021 and includes final spacecraft assembly and testing, along with the August 2022 launch; Phase E, which begins soon after Psyche hits the vacuum of space, covering the mission's deep-space operations and science collection; and Phase F which includes both decommissioning the spacecraft and archiving engineering and science data.

The Psyche spacecraft will arrive at Asteroid Psyche on Jan. 31, 2026, after flying by Mars in 2023. 

Asteroid Psyche 16 is one of the most “intriguing targets in the main asteroid belt as scientists think it is composed mostly of iron and nickel, similar to Earth's core.

“They wonder whether Psyche could be the nickel-iron heart, or exposed core, of an early planet, may be as large as Mars that lost its rocky outer layers through violent collisions billions of years ago. If so, it would provide a unique look into the solar system's distant past, when the kind of high-speed protoplanet encounters that created Earth and the other terrestrial planets were common.”

The Psyche mission aims to understand the building blocks of planet formation by “exploring firsthand a wholly new and uncharted type of world.”

The Psyche spacecraft's payload includes three science instruments.

“The mission's magnetometer is designed to detect and measure the remnant magnetic field of the asteroid. The multispectral imager will provide high-resolution images using filters to discriminate between Psyche's metallic and silicate constituents. Its gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer will detect, measure and map Psyche's elemental composition. The mission also will test a sophisticated new laser communications technology, called Deep Space Optical Communications.”

The Psyche mission is part of NASA's Discovery Program, a series of lower-cost, highly focused robotic space missions.

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