SEP 06, 2023 3:45 PM PDT

Countdown to Launch: NASA's Psyche Spacecraft Prepares for Asteroid Mission

NASA announced today that the Psyche spacecraft is still scheduled to begin its launch window on October 5th and spans through October 25th and will be launching from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Some of the final steps to prepare Psyche for flight include folding the solar arrays into their stored position along with loading the Xenon gas the spacecraft will use for fuel during its trek to the asteroid belt and its target, asteroid 16 Psyche. Over the next two weeks, teams will store the spacecraft into the payload fairing then ship it to Kennedy prior to being installed atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy.

Psyche mission technicians are seen preparing the spacecraft in late July 2023 at a facility near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, post-folding and storing of the solar arrays. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

“These missions take so many people and so much meticulous, rigorous, personally driven work,” said Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton, who is the principal investigator for Psyche and the Vice President for Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University. “I am ready to be ecstatic. We all are, but we are not ecstatic yet. Let’s launch and establish communications – then we can scream, jump, and hug each other!”

After liftoff, Psyche will emerge from its payload fairing and use the Xenon gas to fuel the solar electric propulsion system for the six-year trek to 16 Psyche. Once the spacecraft achieves a successful orbit of 16 Psyche, it will commence a 26-month mission studying the large asteroid whose widest point measures approximately 173 miles (279 kilometers). The reason 16 Psyche is such an intriguing target for scientific research is that it is comprised of a metal-rich body and holds the potential to be a small planetary core that didn’t complete its growth into a full planetary body, also known as a planetesimal. While studying the interior of the Earth is accomplished through indirect methods, this mission will mark the first direct observations of a planetary interior, leading to clues on the formation and evolution of planets.

The aniticpated flight trajectory for NASA's Psyche spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech) 

“It’s getting increasingly real,” said Henry Stone, who is the project manager for Psyche at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We are counting the days. The team is more than ready to send this spacecraft off on its journey, and it’s very exciting.”

After being selected as the 14th mission for NASA’s Discovery Program in January 2017, Psyche was originally scheduled to launch in July 2022. However, NASA announced in June 2022 that the launch will be delayed due to late delivery of testing equipment. After a review, the new launch date was announced for October 2023 with a new estimated arrival date at 16 Psyche for August 2029.

What new science will NASA’s Psyche tell us about asteroid 16 Psyche in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

Sources: NASA, NASA (1), NASA (2), NASA JPL, Wikipedia, NASA (4), NASA (5), NASA JPL (1), NASA JPL (2)

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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