The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been working on a spacecraft that will be sent to explore the asteroid 16 Psyche, one of the most massive asteroids in the asteroid belt. It is thought to be almost pure metal in its composition. As per the space agency, one of the key targets of the Psyche spacecraft is to study the asteroid.
The spacecraft has recently passed its critical design phase.
The 226 kilometre wide 16 Psyche asteroid – about one-sixteenth the diameter of Earth’s Moon or about the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego – orbits the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
A report by Daily Mail said that there could be precious metal in the asteroid worth several tens of thousands of quadrillions of dollars. The report cites planetary scientist Lindy Elkins-Taton as estimating that the iron content alone in 16 Psyche could be worth $10,000 quadrillion.
NASA said that the Psyche spacecraft is targeted to launch in August 2022, and would arrive at the asteroid in early 2026.
The agency plans to map and study 16 Psyche’s properties using various instruments on the spacecraft, like a multispectral imager, gamma ray and neuron spectrometer, a radio instrument and a magnetometer.
The Psyche spacecraft will use a magnetometer to measure the asteroid’s magnetic field, NASA said. The multispectral imager will capture images of the surface and data about the asteroid’s composition and topography. The spectrometer on its part will analyse the neutrons and gamma rays being emitted from the surface to reveal the composition of the asteroid.
The agency added that since it isn’t possible to examine Earth’s core up-close, exploring the asteroid Psyche (about 226 kilometres wide) could offer researchers valuable insight into how our own planet and others like it, were formed. The asteroid Psyche is thought to be an exposed nickel-iron core of a once-planet, which makes it unique.
The mission will be led by Arizona State University, while the operations, navigation and mission management will be undertaken by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The Psyche mission will be the first to investigate a world of metal rather than of rock and ice.
Psyche was discovered by the Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis on 17 March 1852.