NASA is just over three months away from launching a spacecraft to an asteroid made mostly of metal orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.
Scientists believe that the asteroid, known as Psyche, is the remnant of an exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet. An analysis from Forbes speculated that the hunk of space metal, which is about 140 miles in diameter, is worth roughly $10 quintillion.
The Psyche mission is not geared toward extracting extraterrestrial riches, however. NASA’s main goal is to glean more information on how planets form. NASA scientists believe that studying Psyche could lead to a greater understanding of the collisions and growth of early planets.
First, the spacecraft has to leave the ground.
Henry Stone, the mission’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that the focus has shifted to final mechanical preparations for the spacecraft for a target launch date of Oct. 5.
Crews will begin attaching enormous, 800-square foot solar panels to the craft in late July. By mid-august, 2,392 pounds of propellant will be slowly loaded into the spacecraft.
“The team is conducting numerous training activities to ensure that we are prepared and ready,” Mr. Stone said in a statement. “It’s a very busy time, but everyone is very excited and looking forward to the launch.”
The craft will then launch from Cape Canaveral strapped to the back of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. From there, the spacecraft will travel 2.5 billion miles to Psyche.
Once the craft arrives it will spend 26 months orbiting the asteroid, with goals of determining whether the asteroid is in fact an early core, how old Psyche is, and whether the hunk of space metal was formed under similar conditions as Earth.
“We are moving forward, and we’re confident that when we’re on the pad, we’ll be ready to hit the button,” said Psyche mission systems and electrical lead Luis Dominguez. “For all of us, we’ll be excited to launch this bird.”