About 3 times the distance between the Sun & the Earth rests an asteroid, which is a massive chunk of metal. Regular monitoring from Earth suggests that the asteroid is about 252 km in diameter & is composed mainly of metal, just as the core of any rocky planet. This metallic asteroid named Psyche is NASA’s next mission. Psyche lies in the asteroid belt between the Mars & Jupiter. The thing that makes Psyche uncommon is that it seems to be an open & uncovered nickel-iron core of a planet in its early stage.
Deep inside the rocky & terrestrial planets like Earth – researchers have concluded the existence of metallic cores, but the knowledge about the Earth’s core is limited & is based on indirect sources, as the Core is inaccessible because of high pressure and temperature. Thus, this space exploration to Psyche will provide a vast idea, understanding & decipherment of the Core. Psyche will also help to learn about the harsh history of accretion & collisions that formed the terrestrial planets. NASA now has preponed its plans to visit the asteroid sooner. Not only the lift-off has been preponed to the summer of 2022, from October 2023, but also NASA has got an alternative trajectory to reach Psyche faster. It will help the craft to reach Psyche four years earlier in 2026 & will also be cost effective.
Arizona State University is heading the mission & NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is looking after the operations, mission management & navigation. Space Systems Loral is building up the solar- electric propulsion chassis with a payload which involves a magnetometer, an image & a gamma-ray spectrometer. This mission will also analyze a multifaceted new laser- communication technology that will encrypt data in photon packets to exchange information between a craft in space & Earth, instead of the radio waves.
Mindy Elkins-Tanton, principal investigator & scientist of this mission said that this mission will try to find answers to the questions like whether Psyche is actually a core of a planet or is an unmelted material, what are the relative ages of different areas in Psyche’s surface? does small metallic bodies combines the same lighter elements as presumed in Earth’s core? She further said that the probe will also characterize the asteroid’s topography.
The mission will have an observation period of about 21 months. The take-off of the probe is expected to be from the Cape Canaveral launch site in Florida.