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Asteroid-Bound Spacecraft Taking Shape at JPL

Published on Tuesday, August 24, 2021 | 10:18 am
 
NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, destined to study an asteroid of the same name, undergoes integration and testing at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena on Aug. 18, 2021. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The vast array of complex components that make up NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, scheduled to blast off to an asteroid of the same name in one year, are coming together at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

The probe is slated to launch next August en route to the metal-rich asteroid, which sits in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, according to JPL.

“With NASA’s Psyche mission now less than a year from launch, anticipation is building,” JPL said in a written statement. “By next spring, the fully assembled spacecraft will ship from the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a launch period that opens Aug. 1, 2022.”

After years of preparation, Psyche Project Manager Henry Stone of JPL said it was rewarding to see the spacecraft taking shape.

“We have all been watching the spacecraft come together on the floor of the cleanroom. It’s tremendously exciting after all the years of hard work designing the system, and building and testing its myriad of components” Stone said.

“The pressure is now on to complete assembly and test of the vehicle prior to shipment to Cape Canaveral in less than a year,” he said. “It’s both exhilarating and stressful for all involved, but I have total confidence in this team’s ability to get the job done in time for our launch. Go, Psyche!”

The probe is scheduled to spend 21 months orbiting the 140-mile-wide asteroid and gathering data with its suite of state-of-the-art sensors, according to JPL.

“The information the instruments gather won’t just help scientists understand this particular object; it will lend valuable insight into how Earth and other planets formed,” the statement said.

The mission is led by Arizona State University, with JPL responsible for the mission’s overall management.

“It’s incredible to be at this point now, with a big spacecraft coming together and one year until launch,” said Psyche Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of ASU.

“Like everyone in the world, our team has faced many challenges of the COVID pandemic, and we are putting in maximum effort to make it to the finish line,” Elkins-Tanton added. “I’m so proud of this incredible group of people.”

The Psyche mission will also be used to test out a new form of laser-based communication, known as Deep Space Optical Communications, which was recently developed at JPL.

“The technology demonstration will focus on using lasers to enhance communications speeds and prepare for data-intensive transmissions, which could potentially include livestream videos for future missions,” according to the JPL statement.

More information on the Psyche mission is available online at jpl.nasa.gov/missions/psyche.

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