Originally planned for 2023, the launch of NASA’s 16-Psyche mission has just been advanced to 2022. Objective: study this unique asteroid, almost exclusively composed of metal.
16-Psyche is one of the ten most massive asteroids of the asteroid belt. It is over 200 kilometers in diameter and contains just under 1% of the total mass of the asteroid belt. Considered as the apparent ferrous core of a protoplanet, Psyche is composed almost entirely of ferronickel, hence its attractiveness. Its value is inestimable (although it would amount to 10,000 quadrillions of dollars), researchers are mainly interested in the object in order to unravel the mysteries of its formation.
NASA planned a few months ago to launch an eponymous robotic mission in 2023 to reach and study Psyche (the mission is, with Lucy, one of the two runner up among the five finalists of the Discovery program). It has just advanced in the summer of 2022. In addition, NASA announces that the probe could arrive on site (asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter) 4 years earlier than originally planned due to calculations of a new path. The probe should then arrive around 2026. “Advancing the launch date will allow us to achieve our scientific goals earlier and at lower cost,” said Jim Green, Director of the Division of Planetary Sciences at NASA Headquarters in Washington,
According to the US agency, this mission “will help us better understand how the Sun and its family of planets was formed, evolved over time, and have become places where life has grown and sustained.” This mission would be a real journey through time to one of the first periods of planetary accretion, at a time when the first bodies differentiated, pulverized and assembled after numerous collisions. “It is also an exploration, by proxy, of the interior of the terrestrial planets and satellites today,” reports the researcher, “we can not visit a metallic core in any other way.”
Source : NASA