NASA has set a launch date for its mission to explore an asteroid believed to be the core of an ancestral planet.
After delayed attempts and a reprieve over the summer, NASA has announced that it is finally resuming its mission to explore a giant and tantalizing space rock hiding deep in the asteroid belt.
Known as 16 Psyche, the asteroid targeted by NASA comprises one percent of the total mass of the asteroid belt and is speculated to be the core of an ancient planet.
But it’s not Psyche’s size that intrigues scientists so much, but its metal-rich composition, which is believed to harbor a wealth of iron, nickel and gold worth an estimated $10 quintillion – surpassing easily the value of Earth’s entire economy.
On the right track again
Originally scheduled to launch in August 2022, NASA’s spacecraft, aptly named Psyche, was plagued by a persistent flight software problem that caused the US space agency to miss the launch opportunity that ended in October 11.
But after successfully passing an independent review that determined whether or not the mission should be abandoned, NASA has officially announced that the Psyche spacecraft’s journey will finally continue, planned for launch aboard a rocket SpaceX Falcon Heavy on October 10, 2023.
“I am extremely proud of the Psyche team. During this review, they demonstrated the significant progress already made towards the upcoming release date. I am confident in the plan moving forward and excited about the unique and important science this mission will return,” Laurie Leshin, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.
Although the new launch date is delayed by just over a year, the expected arrival at the asteroid Psyche is pushed back by over three years – 2029 instead of 2026 – due to the fact that it will have to wait for another opportunity to break away from the gravity of Mars .
Looking inside a planet
Once it arrives, the NASA spacecraft will orbit the asteroid and study it with a range of instruments, including a multispectral imager, gamma-ray and neutron spectrometers and a magnetometer, according to the agency, reports Futurism.
In this way, scientists hope to determine whether the asteroid is indeed the core of a planet in formation, known as planetesimal. If it is, it could prove an invaluable opportunity to understand the interior of terrestrial planets like our own.