NASA’s Psyche Mission Moves Forward, Passing Key Milestone

By https://jpl.nasa.gov/

The Psyche spacecraft will use a magnetometer to detect a potential magnetic field; if the asteroid has one, it’s a strong indicator that it once was the core of an early planet. A multispectral imager will capture images of the surface, as well as gather information about the asteroid’s composition and topography. Spectrometers will analyze the neutrons and gamma rays coming from the surface to reveal the elements that make up the object.

The main structure of the spacecraft, called the Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) Chassis, was designed and built by Maxar Technologies and is nearly complete. The Maxar team in Palo Alto, California, is preparing to ship it to JPL’s main clean room in March, when assembly, test, and launch operations begin.

Each instrument will then undergo further testing. That includes a laser technology demonstration called Deep Space Optical Communications, led by JPL, which uses a super-efficient method of transmitting data with photons, or fundamental particles of visible light. Also undergoing testing will be the thermal, telecommunications, propulsion, power, avionics, and other engineering subsystems, along with the flight computer.

“The project has made tremendous progress, particularly given the world around us and COVID-19 and dealing with the constraints that imposes,” said JPL’s Henry Stone, the Psyche project manager. “We’re in very good shape. We’re on track and have a plan to go forward to make launch.”

Although engineers and technicians have had to deal with shutdowns forced by the pandemic and to adhere to additional safety protocols for those doing hands-on work on the spacecraft, the project remains on schedule.

“The fact that we can still make this happen and we’re overcoming our challenges feels near-miraculous,” Elkins-Tanton said. “And it’s also an incredible gift to keep us all focused and moving forward in a difficult time. So reaching this milestone has special meaning – not just for this project that we’ve been working on for a decade, but also because of what’s been happening more recently in all of our lives.”

By spring of 2022, the spacecraft will be fully assembled and ready to ship to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where it will launch in August 2022. Psyche will fly by Mars for a gravity assist in May 2023. And in early 2026, it will slip into orbit around the asteroid, where it will spend 21 months gathering data for analysis.

More About the Mission

ASU leads the mission. JPL in Southern California is responsible for the mission’s overall management, system engineering, integration and test, and mission operations. Maxar is providing a high-power solar electric propulsion spacecraft chassis.

For more information about NASA’s Psyche mission go to:

http://www.nasa.gov/psyche

https://psyche.asu.edu/