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The “world of metal” in space that NASA wanted to explore will have to wait

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The US space agency is giving up on starting a mission to Psyche in 2022. The probe will later depart for a very special asteroid made of a metal alloy.

It was to be one of the great appointments of the space adventure in 2022: the departure of a space probe in the direction of an evolving metallic asteroid between Mars and Jupiter. In the end, it will be nothing. The US space agency has given up on a launch this year. The mission, titled Psyche, after the name given to the asteroid, will arrive a few years late.

In a June 24 update, NASA sees two launch possibilities in 2023 and 2024, but given the orbital positions of Earth and the asteroid – dubbed (16) Psyche – the spacecraft won’t arrive in the area until 2029 or 2030 alone, depending on the year chosen. ” The exact dates of these potential launch periods have yet to be determined. “Warns NASA.

Psyche
An artistic representation of Psyche. // Source: NASA

The problem that has plagued NASA is a delay in the supply of spacecraft flight software and test equipment. For lack of sufficient time to verify its quality, NASA believes it no longer has enough time to complete everything before the deadline. These tests are necessary to ensure that the probe works in flight. It is far from secondary.

A world of metal, different from the one we know

Psyche is one of the largest bodies in the asteroid belt and its composition intrigues astronomers a lot. It is described as a ” world of metal by the space agency and the University of Arizona, which proposed the study of this body, due to its atypical characteristics. It is not made of rock or ice, like so many other bodies in space.

For the first time we are exploring a world made not of rock or ice, but of metal “, Welcomes the American faculty on the page dedicated to the project. Unfortunately, the page is not yet fully updated: it still shows a counter that suggests a take-off in the coming weeks (the recovery window was then extended from 1 August to 11 October).

Access to Psyche would provide an exceptional window into the history of the Solar System and better understand the formation of planets, especially their core. A body like Psyche shares characteristics with the heart of the telluric planets. And Psyche is infinitely more accessible than the center of the Earth.

psyche 16 space of the asteroid
Artist’s impression of 16 Psyche // Source: Peter Rubin (cropped image)

In the depths of telluric planets, including the Earth, scientists deduce the presence of metal nuclei, but these are found far below the mantle and rocky crusts. Psyche offers a unique window into these building blocks of planet formation and allows the study of a hitherto unexplored type of world sums up the university.

The composition of the asteroid is believed to be an alloy of iron and nickel, but other particular elements could be unearthed on the surface. The probe will be able to verify this by placing itself in orbit around Psyche at an altitude ranging from a few tens to several hundred kilometers. The probe will be active for just under two years on site.

The Psyché mission was to take off this year with the help of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, which is rarely used. It is a Falcon 9 rocket that benefits from the support of two first stages of the Falcon 9 rocket, which here operate as side boosters. The delay announced in June does not call into question the use of this launcher for the mission.

For further

(951) Gaspra.  // Source: Nasa Eyes on Asteroids

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