NASA to launch mission to metal asteroid one year early

first_imgWashington, May 25 (PTI) NASA has announced that it will launch its robotic spacecraft to a unique metal asteroid Psyche in 2022 – a year ahead of the original schedule.The mission will now take a more efficient trajectory to arrive at the main belt asteroid in 2026, four years earlier than planned, the US space agency said.Psyche, an asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, is made almost entirely of nickel-iron metal. It offers a unique look into the violent collisions that created Earth and the terrestrial planets, researchers said.”We challenged the mission design team to explore if an earlier launch date could provide a more efficient trajectory to the asteroid Psyche, and they came through in a big way,” said Jim Green, from the NASA Headquarters in the US.”This will enable us to fulfil our science objectives sooner and at a reduced cost,” said Green.The Discovery Mission programme – a series of lower-cost, highly focused robotic space missions that are exploring the solar system – had directed teams to propose missions for launch in either 2021 or 2023.The Lucy mission – which will study a population of primitive asteroids called Trojans orbiting with Jupiter – was selected for the first launch opportunity in 2021, and Psyche was to follow in 2023.Shortly after selection in January, NASA gave the direction to the Psyche team to research earlier opportunities.Researchers designed a new, efficient trajectory that does away with the need for assistance of the Earths gravity and shortens the cruise time.advertisementIn addition, the new trajectory stays farther from the Sun, reducing the amount of heat protection needed for the spacecraft.”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.The Psyche spacecraft is being built by Space Systems Loral (SSL) in the US.In order to support the new mission trajectory, SSL redesigned the solar array system from a four-panel array in a straight row on either side of the spacecraft to a more powerful five-panel X-shaped design, commonly used for missions requiring more capability.Much like a sports car, by combining a relatively small spacecraft body with a very high-power solar array design, the Psyche spacecraft will speed to its destination at a faster pace than is typical for a larger spacecraft.”By increasing the size of the solar arrays, the spacecraft will have the power it needs to support the higher velocity requirements of the updated mission,” said SSL Psyche Program Manager Steve Scott.The goals of the Psyche mission are to understand the building blocks of planet formation and explore firsthand a wholly new and unexplored type of world.Scientists seek to determine whether Psyche is the core of an early planet, how old it is, whether it formed in similar ways to Earths core, and what its surface is like. PTI MHN SAR MHNlast_img

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