Among the missions in preparation by NASA there is a very ambitious one called Psyche, which takes its name from the goal it intends to visit. Psyche is an asteroid with a diameter of over 200 km and many in the scientific community argue that it may be what remains of a fragment of the nucleus of a proto-planet, that is, one of those celestial bodies that during the formation of the solar system prematurely interrupted their growth path. It is just one of the many representatives of this genus among the M-class asteroids, that is, those that populate the belt largely positioned between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. According to an estimate, over a million rock bodies of the most disparate dimensions orbit in this area, mainly between 10 meters and 1000 km.
Specifically, Psyche orbit is located in an orbital region included in this case between the Earth and Jupiter and looks like a typical rocky body. Psyche could tell us a lot about the origins of our solar system and for this reason NASA has worked hard to build a spacecraft that allows detailed remote analysis. There will be mainly 4 instruments useful for this purpose, namely a magnetometer, a multispectral imager, a spectrometer and a microwave radiocommunication system that will allow to measure the gravitational field of the asteroid and study its internal structure.
It will be a long journey that the spacecraft will have to face, but the good news is that after several years of development and preparation, everything is now ready for departure.
The final stages of preparation began on April 29, when the Psyche spacecraft arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, aboard a protective container designed to ensure the safety of the delicate components. The vehicle was moved to the hangar for final preparation, then rotated vertically and positioned for the latest additions.
The departure of Psyche is scheduled for August 1st and these few months that separate us from the event will be useful for the installation of solar panels, radio communication systems, to carry out the loading of the propellant, the encapsulation inside the protective hull and finally the latest revisions of systems and subsystems. Subsequently, the move to Launch Complex 39A will take place, from which will take place as a payload aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
But it will not be a short journey as the arrival in the vicinity of Psyche is expected no earlier than 2026. The plans foresee that the spacecraft will spend about 21 months in orbit around the asteroid, during which its characteristics will be analyzed and a mapping carried out. precise surface.
And let’s close with a little curiosity: NASA will take advantage of the mission to test the new laser communication technology created by JPL and call Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC). It is a system consisting of a flight laser transceiver, a ground laser transmitter and a ground laser receiver, which can transfer data and images 10 to 100 times faster than conventional systems. NASA describes it as a technological evolution in data exchange similar to that experienced on Earth with the passage from old telephone cables to optical fiber, so there is great curiosity about the efficiency of this solution.