Remember the California Gold Rush? That’s a child’s play compared to the asteroid mineral rush that NASA is set to launch in 2022. Known as 16 Psyche, it is one of the most massive asteroids in the asteroid belt. The asteroid is over 200 km (120 mi) in diameter and contains about 1% of the mass of the entire asteroid belt.
The asteroid was named after the nymph Psyche, who married Cupid but was put to death by Venus. At Cupid’s request, however, Jupiter made Psyche immortal. Some scientists estimate its minerals could be worth $700 Quintillion or $700,000 quadrillion. The nearby asteroid contains enough gold to make everyone on Earth a billionaire. If the asteroid’s proposed value was divided between every human on Earth, each person would receive $93 billion.
The mission to 16 Psyche was originally targeted to launch in October 2023, with an Earth gravity assist maneuver in 2024, a Mars flyby in 2025, and arriving at the asteroid in 2030. In May 2017 the launch date was moved up to target a more efficient trajectory, launching in 2022, with a Mars gravity assist in 2023 and arriving in 2026.
On February 28, 2020, NASA awarded SpaceX a $117 million contract to launch the Psyche spacecraft, and two smallsat secondary missions, on a Falcon Heavy rocket in July 2022. Psyche 16 is nestled between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and is made of solid metal. That means if we carried it back to Earth, it would destroy commodity prices and cause the world’s economy – worth $75.5 trillion – to collapse.
NASA said the Psyche mission will test a sophisticated new laser communication technology that encodes data in photons (rather than radio waves) to communicate between a probe in deep space and Earth. Using light instead of the radio allows the spacecraft to communicate more data in a given amount of time. The DSOC team is based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
According to NASA, one of the most intriguing targets in the main asteroid belt, 16 Psyche is a giant metal asteroid, about three times farther away from the sun than is the Earth. Its average diameter is about 140 miles (226 kilometers) — about one-sixteenth of the diameter of Earth’s Moon or about the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego. Unlike most other asteroids that are rocky or icy bodies, scientists think the M-type (metallic) asteroid 16 Psyche is comprised mostly of metallic iron and nickel similar to Earth’s core. Scientists wonder whether Psyche could be an exposed core of an early planet, maybe as large as Mars, that lost its rocky outer layers due to a number of violent collisions billions of years ago.
Astronomers on Earth have studied 16 Psyche in visible and infrared wavelengths, as well as radar, which suggests Psyche is shaped somewhat like a potato. Observations indicate that its dimensions are 173 miles by 144 miles, by 117 miles (that’s 279, 232 and 189 kilometers, respectively). Psyche orbits the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter at a distance ranging from 235 million to 309 million miles (378 million to 497 million kilometers) from the Sun. That’s 2.5 to 3.3 Astronomical Units (AU), with 1 AU being the distance between Earth and the Sun. Psyche takes about five Earth years to complete one orbit of the Sun, but only a bit over four hours to rotate once on its axis (a Psyche “day”).
Solar electric cruise: 3.5 years
Arrival at (16) Psyche: 2026
Observation Period: 21 months in orbit, mapping and studying Psyche’s properties
2022 – Launch of Psyche spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center, Florida
2023 – Mars Flyby of Psyche spacecraft
2026 – Psyche spacecraft arrives in asteroid’s orbit
2026-2027 – Psyche spacecraft orbits the Psyche asteroid
Here are some facts about 16 Psyche asteroid.
- Psyche orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter
- The asteroid is named after a mythological nymph who was the wife of Cupid
- It was discovered in 1852 by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis
- If the asteroid’s proposed value was divided between every human on Earth, each person would receive $93 billion
- Its average diameter is 140 miles (226 kilometers), about the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego or nearly the length of Massachusetts
- Psyche surface area—246,300 square miles (641,800 square kilometers)—is just a bit smaller than that of Texas
- The mission was approved by NASA on 4 January 2017
- On February 28, 2020, NASA awarded SpaceX a $117 million contract to launch the Psyche spacecraft, and two smallsat secondary missions, on a Falcon Heavy rocket in July 2022.
- Radar studies suggest that 16 Psyche is shaped like a potato
- The asteroid is located about 3 times further than the Earth is from the Sun
- NASA’s Psyche mission was approved in 2017