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NASA delays Psyche asteroid mission over spacecraft’s thrusters

NASA’s mission to investigate the metal-rich asteroid “Psyche” has been delayed over the spacecraft’s thrusters, the agency announced last week.

The launch of the Psyche spacecraft was pushed back a week, with a new target date of Oct. 12 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA wrote in a blog post.

“The change allows the NASA team to complete verifications of the parameters used to control the Psyche spacecraft’s nitrogen cold gas thrusters,” the post read. “These thrusters are used to point the vehicle in support of science, power, thermal and other demands, such as spacecraft orientation and momentum management.”

The team said the parameters had to be adjusted due to warmer temperature predictions for the spacecraft’s thrusters. NASA said operating the thrusters within temperature limits is “essential” to their long-term health.

PSYCHE, THE GOLDMINE ASTEROID,’ MAPPED IN GREATEST DETAIL YET

Psyche mission team members make preparations to the spacecraft in late July. (NASA/Kim Shiflett)

The spacecraft will use solar-electric propulsion and gravity-assisted maneuvering on its six-year journey to Psyche. There, it will spend about 26 months orbiting the asteroid to study the body. 

spacecraft trajectory map

NASA’s spacecraft will take a spiral path to the asteroid Psyche. It is expected to arrive at the asteroid about six years after its launch. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“These missions take so many people and so much meticulous, rigorous, personally driven work,” Lindy Elkins-Tanton, principal investigator for Psyche at Arizona State University, said in a NASA post last month. “I am ready to be ecstatic. We all are, but we are not ecstatic yet. Let’s launch and establish communications – then we can scream, jump and hug each other!”

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NASA said the Psyche mission has launch opportunities every day between Oct. 12 and Oct. 25.

16 Psyche illustration

The asteroid Psyche, depicted in an illustration created in March 2021, lies in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)

Psyche is sometimes referred to as the “Gold-mine asteroid” because of the large quantities of iron and nickel on its surface. Scientists refer to it as a metal, or m-type, asteroid. These are the rarest types of asteroids, making up about 8% of all asteroids in the known universe. 

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Psyche is also considered a “dwarf planet” because it is roughly 140 miles in diameter. It’s sometimes referred to as 16 Psyche because it was the 16th minor planet discovered and thought to be the core of an early planet. 

Fox News’ Bradford Betz contributed to this report.

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