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NASA, ASU To Send An Orbiter To A Massive, Unusual Metallic Asteroid, 'Psyche'

First Posted: Apr 03, 2017 03:12 AM EDT

NASA and the Arizona State University (ASU) collaborated on a mission, which is to send an orbiter to a massive asteroid known as "Psyche." The goal aims to know what Psyche is really composed of, in which it is theorized that Psyche is made of nickel and iron just like the core of the planet Earth.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the principal investigator of the mission and the director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, described Psyche as a unique world in the solar system. She further said that Psyche is the only one large, round object composed of metal in the Solar System. She added that it is believed to be the center of a very early planet.

The scientists want to investigate how metallic is the asteroid Psyche and how it affects its surface. They would like to know what will happen when craters are developed. Could its metal freeze before falling back or break like glass?

Psyche or also referred to as 16 Psyche is the most massive metallic M-type asteroid. It is one of the 10 biggest asteroids in the asteroid belt. This metal asteroid, which is more than 200 kilometers in diameter, was discovered by the Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis on March 17, 1852, from Naples. Its name was derived from the Greek mythological figure Psyche.

The orbiter is slated to launch in 2023. It is empowered by a Hall-effect thruster and uses solar electric propulsion. ASU is developing the imaging device on the orbiter, while NASA is congregating the launch vehicle with third-party developers, according to State Press.

Tess Calvert, ASU project manager for the Psyche mission, said that they are following the NASA mission phase approach. These include the phases A-F. The preliminary design falls in phase B. As of now, they give the opportunity to students, who want to assist on the project by participating in the upcoming events and contests including a contest to draw Psyche.

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