NASA’s Psyche mission is aimed to study this unique metal-rich asteroid which may reveal the secrets of collisions and accretion that created planets.
NASA is already studying an asteroid named Bennu under its OSIRIS-REx mission to better understand its characteristics. It even plans to return a sample of asteroid Bennu to Earth for detailed analysis. While Bennu has proved very interesting, there is another asteroid that is on the radar of NASA and it is quite unique. NASA, under its Psyche mission, aims to target a unique asteroid that is orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. What makes this asteroid different from others is that it appears to be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet, which is one of the building blocks of our solar system. Yes, this asteroid is not made up of rocks or ice, it is totally metal.
It will be the first mission designed to study a metal-rich asteroid by NASA which will help to understand a previously unexplored building block of planet formation – iron cores. What makes the Psyche mission important is that it offers a great chance to study the history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets. As the metallic cores in terrestrial planet, even in Earth, are hidden far below the rocky mantles and crusts, they are unreachable for study purposes. Therefore, this asteroid provides a really great opportunity to reveal some secrets about planet formation.
NASA’s Psyche mission to the metal-rich asteroid
According to the schedule, NASA was expected to launch the Psyche spacecraft this August 2022. However, due to software issues, the mission launch has now been pushed to 2023. NASA says, “Due to the late delivery of the spacecraft’s flight software and testing equipment, NASA does not have sufficient time to complete the testing needed ahead of its remaining launch period this year, which ends on October 11. The mission team needs more time to ensure that the software will function properly in flight.”
According to the pre-set schedule, NASA expected the arrival of the Psyche spacecraft in the asteroid’s orbit by 2026. Further, it aims to spend 21 months in the asteroid’s orbit for mapping and studying the Psyche’s properties. NASA says that the Psyche mission is expected to launch in both 2023 and 2024, but due to the uncertainties, the exact dates of these potential launch periods are yet to be determined.