NASA’s Mission to That $10,000 Quadrillion Asteroid Is Officially Happening This Fall

After suffering a false start last year, NASA will finally begin its voyage to asteroid 16 Psyche later this year.

The Psyche mission was initially scheduled for September 2022 but was delayed due to “development problems.” Shortly after, an independently appointed review board made extensive recommendations to NASA to get the Psyche spacecraft en route to the rare asteroid. The space agency, its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have reportedly addressed all the recommendations and made outstanding progress on the project, according to a statement shared on Monday.

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“The independent review board is extraordinarily impressed by the accomplishments of the total JPL organization and Caltech,” a May 30 report reads.

A team prepares NASA’s Psyche spacecraft for launch inside the Astrotech Space Operations Facility near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 8, 2022. Psyche will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy. Launch is targeted for no earlier than Oct. 10, 2023. The spacecraft will use solar-electric propulsion to travel approximately 1.5 billion miles to rendezvous with its namesake asteroid in 2026. The Psyche mission is led by Arizona State University. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed for the agency by Caltech in Pasadena, California, is responsible for the mission’s overall management, system engineering, integration and testing, and mission operations. Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, California, provided the high-power solar electric propulsion spacecraft chassis. NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), based at Kennedy, is managing the launch.
A team prepares the Psyche spacecraft for launch inside the Astrotech Space Operations Facility.

Psyche is expected to leave the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center between October 5 and 25. The spacecraft will soar into the stratosphere atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket before it gets a gravity assist from Mars in 2026 to help it along the next stage of the journey. It is expected to arrive at the asteroid in August 2029.

Named after the Greek goddess of the soul, Psyche was discovered by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis in 1852. The giant M-Type asteroid is thought to be the partial core of a small planet that failed to fully form during the earliest days of our solar system.

Some scientists believe the Psyche is made almost entirely of iron and nickel, which could make it worth as much as $10,000 quadrillion. (For comparison’s sake, the entire global economy is worth roughly $110 trillion as of writing.) Other research suggests that the asteroid might not be as metallic or dense as once thought. NASA’s upcoming mission should settle the debate about Pysche’s composition for once and all. The Psyche spacecraft will also orbit the asteroid for 26 months to gain insights into planetary formation and provide us with a better understanding of the interior of terrestrial planets like Earth.

The spacecraft will now undergo final testing in preparation for the October launch.

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