NASA's metallic asteroid-hunter Psyche has a new mission plan

Devdiscourse News Desk | California | Updated: 31-03-2023 09:41 IST | Created: 30-03-2023 11:12 IST
NASA's metallic asteroid-hunter Psyche has a new mission plan
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

NASA's Psyche, a robotic space mission that aims to explore a metal-rich asteroid of the same name located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is planned to launch in October 2023, with the launch period opening on October 5 and closing on October 25.

On Wednesday, NASA revealed a new mission plan for Psyche, which includes a Mars flyby for a gravity assist and arrival at the asteroid in August 2029. Thereafter, the mission will enter its 26-month science phase, during which it will collect observations and data as the spacecraft orbits the asteroid at different altitudes.

The new plan gives the mission more flexibility in how the spacecraft uses its electric propulsion thrusters to reach the asteroid, move between orbits, and remain in orbit, the agency said in a statement.

Originally, Psyche was intended to orbit the asteroid in a sequence of four different altitudes, beginning with the highest altitude (called Orbit A) and gradually descending to the lowest (Orbit D). However, the updated mission plan involves the spacecraft first entering Orbit A, followed by a descent to Orbit B1, then proceeding to Orbit D, returning to Orbit C, and finally transitioning to the second part of Orbit B, known as Orbit B2.

NASA says that the redesigned orbital pattern will optimize lighting conditions for the spacecraft's imagers during Orbits B1 and B2, while the remaining orbits have been tailored to best enable the observations needed by the spacecraft's Gamma Ray Neutron Spectrometer, magnetometer, and telecommunications system, which is used for the gravity science experiment.

The asteroid Psyche is believed to be the partial core of a planetesimal, a building block of rocky planets in our solar system, and it may provide insight into how the Earth's core was formed.

Psyche will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy. 

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