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NASA's Psyche Mission to Reach the Metallic Asteroid 4 Years Earlier

May 31, 2017 12:37 PM EDT
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NASA's Discovery Mission to the unique metallic asteroid Psyche has been moved up by a year, launching on 2022 instead of the initial date of 2023, making it possible to reach Psyche for years in ahead of time.

According to NASA, the earlier launch date will make the mission faster and cheaper. The earlier launch date could provide a more efficient trajectory, making it possible for the spacecraft to reach the Psyche asteroid in 2026 instead of 2030.

"The biggest advantage is the excellent trajectory, which gets us there about twice as fast and is more cost effective," said Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe, in a press release. "We are all extremely excited that NASA was able to accommodate this earlier launch date. The world will see this amazing metal world so much sooner."

Psyche mission's new trajectory will eliminate the need for an Earth gravity assist. Due to this, the traveling time of the spacecraft would be significantly reduced. Additionally, the earlier launch has a trajectory farther than the sun. This means the spacecraft would need lesser amount of heat protection.

To accommodate the earlier launch date and change in trajectory, Space Systems Loral (SSL) redesigned the Psyche spacecraft. SSL, which is building the spacecraft for the mission, changed the solar array system of the Psyche spacecraft, making it a five-panel x-shaped design instead of the original four-panel array in a straight row on either side design. The new design of the solar array system could boost the capabilities of the spacecraft, giving it enough speed to reach its destination at a faster pace.

The Psyche mission is the second in NASA's Discovery Mission. The first of these missions is the Lucy mission, which is set to launch in 2021.

NASA's Discovery Mission to Psyche can further our understanding of the building blocks of planet formation. The mission will investigate if Psyche is the core of an early planet and how old it is. Furthermore, the mission will provide insights if the asteroid was formed just like the Earth and what its surface looks like.

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