There are so many valuable metals buried within the asteroid, it could make every single person on Earth a billionaire if it were returned to the planet. US-based space agency NASA has started building the unmanned probe that will fly to the metal-rich asteroid Psyche, launching on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in August 2022.
Psyche, as well as being rich in metals, is an important subject for planetary scientists.
This is planning on steroids
This is because the space rock is believed to be the core of an early planet that lost its outer layers.
Metallic space rock Psyche is approximately 140 miles (225km) across and the plans for the $ 117 million (£93 million) mission have now been signed-off.
Passing the design review stage means work can now begin constructing the cutting-edge space probe, including high-gear manufacturing of the spacecraft hardware.
Asteroid news: NASA has began building a spaceship to explore the metal-rich Asteroid Psyche
Asteroid news: NASA has started building the unmanned probe that will fly to the metal-rich asteroid Psyche
NASA suspects the asteroid resembles the Earth’s core, which is rich in metallic iron and nickel.
Study of the asteroid could therefore potentially provide astronomers new insights into how our planet first formed.
After launch, the Psyche spacecraft will head out beyond Mars to the Asteroid Belt sitting between the Red Planet and gas giant Jupiter.
The probe will use a magnetometer to measure the asteroid’s magnetic field, while a multispectral imager will capture images of the surface.
Asteroid news: Psyche, as well as being rich in metals, is an important subject for planetary scientists
The mission will also gather data on the composition and topography of the metal rock to better understand the core of a planet – as we cannot study our own directly.
NASA said in a statement: “Spectrometers will analyse the neutrons and gamma rays coming from the surface to reveal the elements that make up the asteroid itself.”
To get to this point the mission team had to make a number of prototypes and engineering models of the science instruments to get the best combination.
Professor Lindy Elkins-Tanton, who also is managing director and co-chair of the Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University, said: “This is planning on steroids.
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“It includes trying to understand down to seven or eight levels of detail exactly how everything on the spacecraft has to work together to ensure we can measure our science, gather our data and send all the data back to Earth.”
Psyche 16 was originally discovered in 1852 and is believed to be the remnants of a proto-planet destroyed by ‘hit-and-run collisions’ when the solar system was forming.
There will be no mining of the space rock, in fact, NASA won’t even be landing on the surface.
The mission is purely scientific, and no samples will be returned to Earth.
Asteroid news: There are so many valuable metals buried within Asteroid Psyche
Professor Elkins-Tanton, a planetary scientist calculated the iron in 16 Psyche alone, could be valued at $ 10,000 quadrillion (£8,072 quadrillion).
If this were returned to Earth it would cause the value of precious metals to plummet, completely devaluing all holdings including those of governments.
And ultimately, this could lead to the collapse of the entire economy, she said.
The asteroid also includes numerous other rare metals, including gold, platinum and copper, but the real value for this mission is the scientific research.
Deep within rocky, terrestrial planets – including Earth – scientists think there are large solid metallic cores.
NASA wrote on the Psyche project website: “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 that created terrestrial planets.”
The main objectives of the mission will see it examine the rocky asteroid to see how similar – or dissimilar – it is to what we think the Earth’s core is like.
The NASA project will determine the relative ages of the regions of its surface, whether small metal bodies incorporate the light elements as expected in the Earth’s high-pressure core and whether it was formed under conditions similar to our planet.
Now the Psyche mission is full-speed ahead on building hardware, there is little margin for error if NASA is to get everything assembled and tested in time for the August 2022 launch window.
Assembly and testing of the full spacecraft begins in February 2021, and every instrument has a deadline of April 2021 to be delivered to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s main clean room.