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NASA’s Psyche spacecraft to launch on August 1; mission to reveal facts about Earth’s core

NASA’s mission to examine the metal-rich asteroid 16 Psyche is nearing its launch date. In a recent update, the US space agency revealed August 1 as the possible launch date from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Under this mission, NASA is launching a spacecraft named ‘Psyche’ to the asteroid which is located between Mars and Jupiter using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

Purpose of the mission

Asteroid 16 Psyche, located in the asteroid belt, is rich in metals such as nickel and iron, and a spacecraft will be launched with the intention to examine it. NASA says that the spacecraft will spend about 21 months orbiting the asteroid and will map the space rock to provide insights into how planets with a metal core including the Earth formed. After its launch in August, the spacecraft will be on a four-year-long journey before arriving at the spot in early 2026.

NASA says that there are not many classes of objects left in our solar system that it has not looked at up close with a spacecraft, but those that are left are the metal asteroids.

Henry Stone from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said that the might be a remnant core of a planetesimal that was formed in the earliest stages of the solar system’s formation. After that, the planet was formed with the metal core inside it, the protoplanet collided with another body and got stripped of its outer rocky mantle, leaving the core intact.

Another argument of scientists is that a core is the part of the planet that cannot be sampled because it is too hot, and the pressure is too high, which would cause the instruments to melt. The reason why this asteroid is special is that it would give scientists an opportunity to visit a core – “the only way that humankind can ever do”, says Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Principal investigator from the Arizona State University. Notably, this would also be the first metal object in space humans have ever visited.

Final steps to launch preparation

The spacecraft is currently at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where it will complete the final steps before launch. NASA revealed that the spacecraft will undergo steps such as re-installing solar arrays, re-integrating a radio, testing the telecommunications system, loading propellants, and encapsulating the spacecraft inside payload fairings. Once this process is complete, the massive probe will leave the facility and head towards the launch pad. 

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