NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is nearing completion, launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in August on its voyage to the same metal-rich asteroid.
On Monday, April 11, members of the media observed the spacecraft up close in a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Reporters also spoke with mission leaders, including Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Psyche’s primary investigator, and Henry Stone, project manager.
“Welcoming reporters into the clean room gives the public a glimpse of the years of hard work that has gone into this mission,” said Brian Bone, Psyche’s assembly, test, and launch operations manager at JPL. “Thanks to the Psyche team’s determination and skill, we’re in the final stretch of readying the spacecraft to head out to our launch site in Florida.”
Before entering the High Bay 2 clean room in the Lab’s storied Spaceship Assembly Facility, reporters cleaned their equipment with isopropyl alcohol to prevent the van-size spacecraft from taking Earth bacteria into orbit. Psyche will be delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch this summer.
In May 2023, the spacecraft will pass by Mars for a gravity assist before orbiting the asteroid Psyche in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter in early 2026. Scientists believe the asteroid, which is about 173 miles (280 kilometres) broad at its widest point, is mainly made of metal from the core of a planetesimal, which is one of the building blocks of the rocky planets in our solar system.
Since March 2021, the mission has been in the assembly, test, and launch operations phase. However, because optimal launch times to the main asteroid belt are constrained, the team has been working against the clock to complete construction during the last year.
The crew recently erected the largest solar arrays ever installed at JPL and has put the spacecraft through a series of rigorous tests to simulate the severe circumstances that a NASA spacecraft must withstand. As a result, the psyche has been authorised to proceed after undertaking electromagnetic, thermal-vacuum, vibration, stress, and acoustic testing. The launch phase begins on August 1.
The Psyche mission is led by Arizona State University. JPL, which is operated by Caltech for NASA, is in charge of overall mission management, system engineering, integration and testing, and mission operations. Maxar Technologies provided the high-power solar electric propulsion spacecraft framework in Palo Alto, California.
Deep Space Optical Communications, a technology demonstration instrument provided by JPL, will fly aboard Psyche to test high-data-rate laser communications that future NASA missions could employ.