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  • Writer's pictureShreysi Singh

An Expedition to the Metallic Realm : Psyche

What is Psyche? In 1852 NASA scientists found an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter brimming with iron, nickel, and other metals, and quite possibly silicates, with a dull, predominantly gray surface likely covered with fine metal grains from cosmic impacts. The uniqueness of Psyche lies in the exposed iron-nickel core of an early planet (one of the building blocks of the solar system). Scientists believe that rocky, terrestrial planets like Earth have a similar metallic core, but observing and measuring it is arduous, as it lies far below in the mantle and crust of the planet. Now scientists believe that exploring this asteroid will allow us to better understand the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets, leading to the start of the mission psyche initiated by NASA and SpaceX.

Psyche Mission
Psyche Mission

Specifications of the Spacecraft: The spacecraft will be propelled by solar electric propulsion. The five- panel, cross-shaped solar arrays provide around 800 square feet of solar collecting surface, the solar arrays will produce more than 20 kilowatts of power when the spacecraft is near Earth, but they will generate just over 2 kilowatts of power when it reaches the asteroid Psyche. This will be more than enough power to meet the spacecraft’s needs on its journey, including running science instruments, telecommunications, and equipment that control the spacecraft’s temperature, and the spacecraft’s superefficient solar electric propulsion engines. The solar propulsion system’s thrusters use electromagnetic fields to accelerate and push out charged atoms, or ions, of the neutral gas xenon. The expelled ions create the thrust that pushes Psyche through space and emits a blue glow. With no atmospheric drag to hold it back, the spacecraft will accelerate to speeds of up to 124,000 mph (200,000 kph) relative to Earth during its interplanetary journey to the asteroid belt.

Specifications of Psyche Satellite
Specifications of Psyche Satellite

Timeline: At the beginning of its roughly six-year journey, the Psyche spacecraft will spend about 100 days in initial checkout to make sure everything is functioning properly, before firing up its thrusters. About 2.5 years after launch, the spacecraft will fly by Mars for a gravity boost. About 5.5 years from now, the cruise period will be ending, and around June 2029, the imagers on the spacecraft will be able to take photos of the asteroid Psyche. In August 2029, the spacecraft will drop into its first of 26 months of planned orbits around the metal-rich asteroid. Communications: NASA’s DSOC (Deep Space Optical Communications) demonstration, carried by the Psyche spacecraft, will send and receive test data using an invisible near-infrared laser communication technology that encodes data in photons at near-infrared wavelengths (rather than radio waves) to communicate between a probe in deep space and Earth. Using light instead of radio allows the spacecraft to communicate more data in a given amount of time. The DSOC team is based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Objectives: ➼ Understand a previously unexplored building block of planet formation: iron cores. ➼ Look inside terrestrial planets, including Earth, by directly examining the interior of a differentiated body, which otherwise could not be seen. ➼ Explore a new type of world. For the first time, examine a world made not of rock and ice, but metal. ➼ Determine whether Psyche is a core, or if it is un-melted material. ➼ Determine the relative ages of regions of Psyche's surface. ➼ Determine whether small metal bodies incorporate the same light elements as are expected in the Earth's high-pressure core. ➼ Determine whether Psyche was formed under conditions more oxidizing or more reducing than Earth's core. ➼ Characterize Psyche's topography.

Psyche aims to discover metals !!
Psyche aims to discover metals !!

Latest Updates: On 13th October 2023, the Mission Psyche was initiated with good health and within an hour the separation was confirmed, and the spacecraft was on its way to the metallic realm. Although the mission is a six-year journey with 2.2 million miles to cover, it is an important discovery in the history of science, paving the path to understanding our homeland.

Short Video on Psyche (Video Credit: NASA)

After this blog, we may say: "Psyche is where science meets the soul of the cosmos."

Team AstroVent, puts forward their best wishes for Mission Psyche.

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