The Psyche mission is a journey to a unique metal asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. What makes the asteroid Psyche unique is that it appears to be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet, one of the building blocks of our solar system.
Deep within rocky, terrestrial planets - including Earth - scientists infer the presence of metallic cores, but these lie unreachably far below the planets' rocky mantles and crusts. Because we cannot see or measure Earth's core directly, Psyche offers a unique window into the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets.
The mission is led by Arizona State University. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is responsible for mission management, operations and navigation. The spacecraft's solar-electric propulsion chassis will be built by SSL with a payload that includes an imager, magnetometer, and a gamma-ray spectrometer.
- Understand a previously unexplored building block of planet formation: iron cores.
- Look inside terrestrial planets, including Earth, by directly examining the interior of a differentiated body, which otherwise could not be seen.
- Explore a new type of world. For the first time, examine a world made not of rock and ice, but metal.
- Determine whether Psyche is a core, or if it is unmelted material.
- Determine the relative ages of regions of Psyche's surface.
- Determine whether small metal bodies incorporate the same light elements as are expected in the Earth's high-pressure core.
- Determine whether Psyche was formed under conditions more oxidizing or more reducing than Earth's core.
- Characterize Psyche's topography.
Scientific Instruments and Investigations
- Multispectral Imager
- Gamma Ray and Neutron Spectrometer
- X-band Gravity Science Investigation
Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC)
The Psyche mission will test a sophisticated new laser communication technology that encodes data in photons (rather than radio waves) to communicate between a probe in deep space and Earth. Using light instead of radio allows the spacecraft to communicate more data in a given amount of time. The DSOC team is based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Solar electric cruise: 3.5 years
Arrival at (16) Psyche: 2026
Observation Period: 21 months in orbit, mapping and studying Psyche's properties
2022 - Launch of Psyche spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center, Florida 2023 - Mars Flyby of Psyche spacecraft 2026 - Psyche spacecraft arrives in asteroid's orbit 2026-2027 - Psyche spacecraft orbits the Psyche asteroid