The name of an asteroid orbiting the Sun in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, as well the name of NASA’s mission to explore that asteroid. The asteroid Psyche is named after the goddess of the soul in ancient Greek mythology.
The full flight system, including the spacecraft’s two five-panel solar arrays, is about the size of a singles tennis court: 81 feet (24.76 meters) long by 24 feet (7.34 meters) wide.
The spacecraft body, or bus, is 16.1 feet (4.9 meters) tall, including the 6.6-foot (2-meter) booms for two science instruments, 7.1 feet (2.2 meters) wide, and 7.8 feet (2.4 meters) deep.
At launch, the Psyche spacecraft is expected to have a mass of up to 6,056 pounds (2,747 kilograms), including the Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) technology demonstration attached to it. The total mass at launch, including the rocket, is 3.16 million pounds (1.43 million kilograms) – more than 99% of which is accounted for by the rocket.
Psyche has three dedicated instruments – a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, a multispectral imager, and a magnetometer. It will also use the X-band radio telecommunications system for gravity science.
Two five-panel, cross-shaped solar arrays power everything on board, including the science instruments. The solar arrays will produce 21 kilowatts when leaving the Earth and between 2.3 and 3.4 kilowatts during orbit around the asteroid.
Psyche uses solar electric propulsion. The spacecraft has four Hall-effect thrusters that rely on electromagnetic fields to expel charged atoms, or ions, of inert xenon gas that in turn create thrust, trailing a blue glow of xenon. Only one thruster is on at a time, providing up to 240 millinewtons of thrust – about the amount of force that one AA battery would exert on the palm of your hand. Psyche will carry seven roughly 22-gallon (82-liter) tanks of xenon propellant – up to 2,392 pounds (1,085 kilograms).
Targeted launch period
Oct. 5 through 25. Updates on the launch date can be found on the mission’s launch blog.
Targeted launch windows
A Psyche launch on Oct. 12 would occur at 10:16 a.m. EDT (7:16 a.m. PDT). Additional information about launch windows (the times each day Psyche can launch) can be found at go.nasa.gov/3seZc18.
Launch Complex 39A, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida
SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket
Spacecraft’s distance to travel to Psyche
About 2.2 billion miles (3.6 billion kilometers)
Flight time to Psyche
About 6 years
The Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment
Attached to Psyche is NASA’s first test of high-bandwidth optical communications between Earth and distances far exceeding the Moon. It will use a near-infrared laser to send and receive test data between Earth and deep space from November 2023 and October 2025.
The asteroid Psyche orbits the Sun in the outer part of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and it is approximately three times farther from the Sun than Earth is. Track the asteroid’s current location with NASA’s Eyes on Asteroids.
The asteroid was discovered in 1852 by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis. Because it was the 16th asteroid to be discovered, it is sometimes referred to as 16 Psyche.
The asteroid was named for the goddess of the soul in ancient Greek mythology, often depicted as a butterfly-winged female figure.
Psyche has an irregular potato shape. If the asteroid were sliced in half horizontally at the equator – picture a squished oval – it would measure 173 miles (280 kilometers) across at its widest point and 144 miles (232 kilometers) long. It is estimated to have a surface area of about 64,000 square miles (165,800 square kilometers).
Psyche is likely a mixture of rock and metal, with metal making up between 30% to 60% of its volume.
Psyche Mission Milestones
The Psyche spacecraft is scheduled to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.
The spacecraft is expected to fly by Mars, using the planet’s gravity as a slingshot to increase velocity.
Late July 2029
If all goes as planned, the asteroid Psyche’s gravity will capture the spacecraft after a journey of about 2.2 billion miles (3.6 billion kilometers).
August 2029 to November 2031
The spacecraft conducts its prime mission, gathering science data while orbiting the asteroid.
NASA has invested approximately $1.2 billion to develop, launch, and operate the Psyche mission. This includes about $131 million in launch services for Psyche and the Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) technology demonstration.
The cost for developing and operating DSOC is about $206 million.